The Author

This is page 15 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 16, Page 14, Page 13, Page 12, Page 11, Page 10, Page 9, Page 8, Page 7, Page 6, Page 5, Page 4, Page 3, Page 2 and Page 1, (oldest entry).



In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme

On Saturday Ploy went to a red shirt rally to sell her soya bean drink; she didn't come back until 2a.m. because it took so long to get home with all the traffic as the event was so well attended. It was the red shirts that brought an area of Bangkok to a standstill earlier this year that resulted in the deaths of many people - I won't get into the continuing arguments as to who did what to whom - burnt down Central World plaza and led to world wide condemnation of Thailand and the government. It seems to be a general agreement that there is a festering sore in Thailand and this rally shows that all is not going to remain quiet. There will be elections later this year and it could all come to a head around that time.

On the face of it the red shirt's claims seem legitimate. The government is a sort of fudge after a military coup ousted the last 'legitimate' government. Yes there have been elections and with each election the usual claims of corruption, of buying votes, of miscounting; you know the sort of thing even if in your country the elections are all above board, like in Florida for example. The red shirts say they represent the poor of the country, those workers that work mostly in the north east toiling to feed the greedy middle/upper classes of Bangkok. Us against them, poor against rich; an age old struggle.

The red shirts are not a political party although they affiliate with one, (or more). That party is not in government. Come the election they may well be, assuming they command the majority as they claimed, the elections are fair, they have enough money to put enough candidates forward and enough money to buy votes. Assuming 'their' party does form the government will they then be happy? I wonder.

Whilst democracy may give us JFK or Obama it also gave us Bush and Thatcher and Blair and may yet give us Palin. How many who voted Liberal in the last UK elections expected them to endorse a Conservative government. The negatives clearly outweigh the positives. The accidents and irregularities of Thailand's fight for power may just have given it its best prime minister for years and surely it is better to have the best man for the job rather than an incompetent that is there only because of a democratic anomaly or because of some idealistic fervour.

Every country has its poor and its rich. Of course it is unfair that some earn millions whilst some fight for a couple of hundred baht for a ten hour day in sweltering heat. But we should not immediately assume that those who are rich are necessarily undeserving of that wealth. Or for that matter those that are poor are not so because they are lazy, incompetent or useless. If we can generalise, it is more likely that the poor, having less opportunities, are less educated. Even in the West now education costs, and costs a lot, so even the less naturally gifted rich kids will have the opportunity to learn, even though they may not because inbreeding has rendered them as thick as two short planks. But as Aristotle wrote, the poor are in the majority. So democracy gives the chance for the more poorly educated to choose a government that they think better serves their position even if that government is in fact little more than a face, there for a few years at best with all the real donkey work and thinking being done behind the scenes by the un-elected bureaucrats and civil servants. It may make them feel better to vote in a woman that believes the earth was created ten thousand years ago or who thinks Alaska is the centre of the known universe, but she will be as hand-cuffed by the deficit as any of her predecessors. What she would be able to do is tweak things, like allow Creationism to be compulsorily taught in schools or maybe invade Iran or Venezuela. What she won't be able to do is reverse the social structure, and why should she, she is one of the wealthy. It is strange that so many of the poor endorse people like the Queen or Thaksin, two of the wealthiest people on the planet. Evidence of their ill-thought out plans surely lies in them not spotting an anomaly there.

What won't happen is the poor will suddenly become rich, save for the relative wealth of the few in government. The status quo will be maintained because that is the way of the world and the power of the world lies in the hands of few select people; they are not going to allow that to change. Strangely the real change would likely be brought about only by particularly eloquent and gifted individuals, (not necessarily wealthy), just the very type of person that democracy discriminates against. The nearest model to this is probably Singapore where, although there is dissent against the false democracy there, as long as the majority of the population is well off and thinks it is well off, the existing government is allowed to govern and the country prospers. Nepotism, corruption and moral bankruptcy are allowable because the country is stable, growing and relatively wealthy, at least to the majority. Singapore has its poor but they know their place and keep to it. Thailand could follow that mode, although it has more poor, as it is also relatively isolated from the rest of the world and if it plays the games required of it by certain other countries would largely be allowed to do what it wants, as Singapore is. Just the occasional and requisite telling off when it executes someone, otherwise they can continue selling arms to Burma or engaging in whatever business practices are necessary to make more money; Mum's the word.

But the poor wants democracy. It wants to vote in the stupid and ill-educated because it thinks those people will make them rich. It wants to vote in one of their own because they mistakenly believe those people won't act like kids in sweet shop once they get to power, that they will remember their roots and will be able to give free hand outs by the bucket load. But they are not voting in one their own. They are voting in someone from the other side but seem unable to see it. Clegg is as liberal as Hitler and Thaksin as Socialist as Ghenghis Khan.

But their false belief is worth fighting and killing for. And they will.


Microfiction Monday No.62

From Susan at Stony River.

Aunt Agatha was stingy. Millie got a box of soap whilst Ann and Pubert a bunch of weeds. So Jimmy stole her pet pig in lieu of their turkey.


How Does Your Garden Grow

The idea of caring for and nurturing a garden has always seemed attractive to me. The reality is all that pruning and weeding and taking cuttings I actually find boring and arduous. When we lived in Canada we chose to cover the garden with plastic sheeting and white pebbles with islands for the plants so we didn't come back to a jungle. However the white pebbles became brown pebbles and the local cats still used it as a choice toilet break area, in fact the pebbles seemed to attract them. (In this regard Pinky is a failure for whilst she will chase a cat, if the cat confronts her she then runs away from it or just stares it as trying to hypnotise it to death).

So with the work on the veranda nearly complete we were going to have a path built from the front of the house, through the garden, to my workshop at the rear; at the moment that is just stepping stones amidst the pebbles.

But the work on the veranda has devastated our trees at the front of the house and in particular our coconut palm, so much so that we decided it was best to be cut down. Once that was done we would have quite a large clear area, sufficient to park another car. Now we don't have another car but we have mooted the idea as Ploy is out most days with our car leaving me isolated in the house, which whilst it is not that inconvenient at the moment could be so in the future. At the moment it is difficult for me just to get into town to buy something. So we decided to pave over the entire garden, save for a few islands for the few surviving plants. If we want to add more plants we can just buy some of those large plant pots. So we asked our builder how much to do this and he quoted us 180 baht per square metre plus we buy the sand, cement and tiles. We went for it. (The sand and cement cost us 3,800 baht).

The veranda is nearly complete and the railings have been ordered. They are a little ornate for my complete endorsement but were Ploy's favourites so I let her win that one so I get first choice on the paint colours, (hopefully). The railings were 19,000 baht for 7 metres including fitting, half the price of competing quotes and not bad for stainless steel. We will have to fork out another 67,000 baht to have the same style railings around our garden and also to replace our gate so we decided that can wait until we get paid for another order. The veranda will be finished in couple of weeks so we thought we might see in the New Year with a veranda warming party and a couple of close friends, assuming we can find some. I shall be working over Christmas and the New Year so that should make a nice mini-break, for a day at least.

Whilst Ploy does occasionally help with the SingMai stuff and she always does the running around for bank things and the accountant the rest of her time is her own but she has never been one to sit on her laurels. She has become close friends with a nice (but odd) lady down the road who cooks the lunches for a local school. This lady was the one who got possessed by the elephant woman god a while ago. She has obviously got a thing for this as last Sunday she invited Ploy to another similar do, this one even more lavish with Thai movie stars, Thai dancing girls and live music; the whole works.

Today Ploy is at this woman's house cooking food for a red shirts rally in Gaeng Khoi, not far from us. Ploy, who supports neither side, (yellow or red - she thinks both are equally selfish and destructive to Thailand), is never one to let income get in the way of morals.

Wednesday or Thursday is lucky number day when Ploy goes off to Prabhat to get a lucky number for the lottery - this is the 'unofficial lottery' that she won 100,000 baht with a while back, (although nothing since). She uses that trip to go to Lop Buri and shop for a few items that we can't easily buy in Saraburi so it becomes an all day event. Then there are the occasional trips across the border with our accountant to go shopping and go to the casinos there. And the trip to Bangkok to see her daughter, the early morning trips to the market to buy food, mostly for Pinky now, the trips to Tesco to buy the ingredients for my Western lunches and stock up on wine, the trips to the bank to pay our suppliers, (easier than fighting the on-line method), the trips to the various building supply companies to order everything for the work on our house and the only time we see each other now seems to be for dinner, (and today that won't be the case either as the red shirt rally goes on late). The chores on the house are shared, like the recent mouse catching in the kitchen as we gave up waiting for them to eat the poison we laid out, (four of the blighters have met their maker prematurely - Pinky seemed to have the same aggressive attitude to them as she does with cats so we had to do her job for her).

So we do seem to live largely separate lives these days. I wake at some ungodly hour, getting earlier by the day it seems, now 3a.m. seems the norm, but then I am in bed by 8p.m. most days. Ploy is usually at her friends then after we eat dinner together, either here or out somewhere - if it is eating in it now almost always me who cooks, (yesterday I made paprika and

parmesan dusted pork escalopes with crispy potatoes and a salad). It works well that way as by 5p.m I have already done a very full day and cooking helps me relax. Sometimes we watch a DVD together but Ploy likes to go and chat with her friend and I take Pinky out, (let her loose is more accurate), and watch a movie or concert. I go to bed, Ploy comes home later and last night came to bed at midnight as she had been cleaning the house, ('easy to do as you are not working'). This morning was a late start, 4a.m. Ploy woke at 7.a.m. a little earlier than normal because she has to make food for this rally. She will come back briefly to shower and then she will be gone all day. I keep an eye on the builders and when they finish at about five, I will make something to eat and have a glass or three of wine in the evening watching something or other from our vast (big-ish) DVD collection. Save for the fact Ploy is late back today so I dine alone this is the routine we have settled into and we both like it. It suits our independent ways and gives us the freedom to do as we both wish. Both being only children and spending a lot of time alone in our lives it is a lifestyle that has developed over our time together but being in Thailand has given, Ploy in particular, the freedom to do.

It is strange that this is the life we have chosen, yet when I travel both of us start missing each other within a couple of days. When we talk about wanting to get away for a week we both will want for completely different things: me happy to take a pile of books to a beach resort somewhere, Ploy preferring to have the facilities of a big town at hand. It seems the longer we stay together the closer and more apart we become at the same time.


Microfiction Monday No.61

From Susan at Stony River.

Ursula was happy. After years of unsuccessfully trying to remove the stains from her Ivor’s smalls she had found the perfect washing powder.


Back Home

It was 3a.m. and unable to sleep I decided to come downstairs and try and do some work. I turn on the computer, turned on the fan and go into the kitchen that is off the workshop to make a coffee only to be met by the sight of a small mouse which immediately scurried down the hole in the worktop where our gas pipe goes. Another job for today, clean the cupboards out and set some traps. I know it was only a small one but they breed like, well mice, and we don't have any particular need for more pets. Also it might just be a small baby rat, it was quite dark in colour, but then maybe Thai mice are that colour. No sense in asking Ploy as the Thai word for mouse and rat is the same.

I got back from Singapore on Thursday night. The trip was a little strange. The two things I went to achieve - renew my visa and collect my new SingMai product - went well but aside from that it was all a little hit and miss. For the first time in all my travels with Singapore air my flight was late because of some problem of their's they didn't choose reveal to us, (sitting in the business lounge they gave a us a letter apologising and saying it was because of bad weather in Singapore which they then promptly retrieved). Now that doesn't make sense as I have flown out of both Bangkok and Singapore in raging thunderstorms and a Singapore business man called a colleague who said it was sunny there and that usually doesn't prevent flying unless the captain's sunglasses are broken. Anyway by the time we got to Singapore and after a 2a.m. start to finish a job off in the morning I was completely knackered and hungry as I had missed the meal on the flight having stuffed myself with the sandwiches in the lounge and helped them fill their recycle bins with white wine bottles. So I got a quick meal in the hotel restaurant and then didn't sleep all night because of heartburn.

The next day was the visa application which went without a hitch. There was quite a long queue but people were seen quickly and when my turn came they looked through the papers, asked for my work permit and immediately gave me a slip of paper to collect the visa the following day - 10 minutes in total. Although expensive, S$100 for a 3 month, single entry, visa its ease of application was a revelation compared with the bureaucracy in Thailand. I then wandered around the shops as I had a small shopping list from Ploy but, of course, the shops in Singapore don't open until 11a.m. so I spent the morning fuelling my heartburn by drinking coffee at the Coffee Bean in Orchard road and watching the world go by. I had lunch at the Marriott cafe, the best people watching spot in Singapore, and chatted to one of the waitresses who remembered me from my many visits even though the last was well over three months ago. In the afternoon I visited my sub-contractors who had done much more than I expected with my project and had made some prototype panels for the box. There was more than I expected to have to take home so I asked them for a pro-forma invoice and decided I would try going through the red channel in Bangkok on my return rather than try and brave the green channel and have to fork out some money to let me through if I got caught, as I had coming back from Canada.

In the evening I met with an ex-colleague from Singapore and we chewed the fat at this place which did decent beer but indifferent food; it was a nice evening none-the-less. Even more knackered than the night before I took the train back to my hotel and slept the sleep of the dead for 8 hours, my best night's sleep in what seemed like months.

Wednesday was my last full day in Singapore and despite the good night's sleep I had woken quite early and of course the shops were still shut. How annoying is that. Singapore is a night time town (aside from the early fresh food markets) and I am an early morning person. Coffee Bean again helped the time go by and at 10.30 I found the first shop open, Marks and Spencer, where I stocked up on socks; (I don't wear socks in Thailand but I do when I travel and Mark's still do the best cotton socks and briefs in the world). I bought a couple of DVDs and then looked for somewhere to have lunch. I had looked on the Internet in the morning for the 'best places for lunch in Singapore' and knowing Sage restaurant was shut for lunch (despite what it says on its website) decided on this place, which after much wandering around the streets of Chinatown I eventually found and was promptly turned away from, (fully booked sir, the waiter said, fronting the empty restaurant - and I looked relatively smart). Back to the Marriott seemed an option as a realised I had been away too long from Singapore to think where else to go. Then I remembered another place on the top five list, the Fullerton hotel and knowing where that was I got a taxi there. I thought I knew what restaurant was meant but that just had a buffet so I asked one of the hotel's guest helpers who guessed the Lighthouse restaurant and then, after scolding me for not making a reservation, escorted me up one elevator and then across to a secret elevator that only went to this restaurant. If this was Shinjuki I would now expect to be gang raped but instead, being Singapore, it opened out into a small very brightly lit restaurant where I spent a small fortune (S$236) on the

best lunch I can remember eating in a very long time. Tuna carpaccio, baked cod with fennel and potatoes and a panna cotta dessert with crispy ginger. But the meal was slightly spoiled by the other customers, all business men in their light blue and white checked shirts, (aside from the American in his light pink and white striped shirt), who, after spending hours exchanging business cards finally get to order by loudly asking, 'what do you recommend' to their host. And not one table, but all of them. High powered business men unable to read or make a personal choices on what to eat but are able to misappropriate billions of dollars in some fund or whatever. I left them to their deals and got a taxi to the embassy where my lovely blue visa was waiting, and then I walked back to the hotel.

The rest of the trip went without event. An attempt to relax by the swimming pool was thwarted by the noise and dust from the condominium being built next door. Full from the lunch I ate a quick meal at Iguana, wandered along the river for a bit before a downpour forced me into a taxi to a small bar opposite Orchard Towers. I had a couple of vodka martinis there and watched the comings and goings opposite as the girls(!) start coming to work: (Orchard Towers is known locally as the four floors of whores). Probably because of the slightly unwanted Mexican meal I then suffered another night of heartburn and no sleep and wandered the next morning in a daze trying to find some moisturising sun cream Ploy wanted. I then tickled my wallet in a little CD/DVD shop off Orchard - more a cupboard really - that has lots of imports of mostly dead singers which I indulged myself with. Armed with Sammy, Liza, Al Martino and Gene Pitney DVDs I collected my box and pro-forma and had a timely flight home, Ploy met me and drove me home and where Pinky vigorously and enthusiastically greeted me. (After much debate with myself I finally decided to go through the red channel which, after some discussion, I passed though with little delay and no remuneration to the staff).

The next morning I looked at the work on the house and was disappointed to see what seemed little progress; one whole day had been waiting for the cement floor to dry. However yesterday saw a roof structure miraculously appear and all of a sudden it looks like we have a veranda. I indulged myself by playing with my new toy and it just burst into life with no obvious issues which is great. I should complete another order first but I just had to try it. Our next two products are also mapped out and some preliminary work has started on them too.

Four days out to collect a visa seemed an indulgence and the relaxation part of the trip back fired. But last night I cooked some chicken, (with stir fried vegetables, a rich tomato sauce and mashed potatoes), and we watched the Liza concert from the MGM in Las Vegas (incredible) and all seemed right with the world. Maybe because Singapore was so busy, it being Christmas, or maybe Singapore is now always busy, but I found it all a little over-whelming; maybe also I was a little concerned and distracted over the visa. But overall it was a successful trip, albeit an expensive one. The more I travel now, the more I begin to really appreciate Thailand as my home.


Microfiction Monday No.60

From Susan at Stony River.


“Another popped up last night, that’s four this week. I checked the names; they’re all lawyers. It seems that even Hell won’t take them”.



The floor to our veranda is now in place. Today is a holiday here (King's Birthday) but tomorrow the floor will be finished with a cement screed. Unfortunately, as expected, our coconut palm tree was drastically pruned to allow the crane to deliver the pre-formed concrete slabs of the floor. That is a shame as it would have afforded some nice shade over the veranda but hopefully it will recover. This will be the last big job on the house for a while now; just the painting remains to be done and replacing the fence around the garden with something a little less reminiscent of a prisoner of war camp.

Ploy has taken a day off to go to Cambodia, (Poi Pet), and visit the casino with our accountant. Tomorrow I go to Singapore for four days to renew my visa and visit our sub-contractors to collect our first assembled stand alone product. We just got paid by the Taiwan company this week and we are told by the Canada company that an order is in the pipeline. Ploy has also made a contact with someone locally who has money to burn and wants to co-invest in some project. Ploy discussed some of the ideas we have for new products but do not yet have the resources to produce. He also has government contacts which one of the projects we have in mind would need to be a success. SingMai also had its busiest ever month for its website so things are looking very promising for next year.

I was rather taken with this interview with Cilla Black, who went from being the top selling female singer in the UK during the 1960s to being a very capable and popular host of some TV programs. I will admit a guilty secret - I did sometimes watch Blind Date - but I do not like reality TV programs as a rule. But that said she had a natural way of presenting on the TV that made a program I would normally have avoided, watchable. And it is a talent that is under-estimated as is shown by those that try to emulate her chatty approach, like Graham Norton or Chris Evans, for whom being in their company for more than sixteen seconds gives rise to all sorts of fantasies about extravagant ways to disembowel them. And it further makes me think again how willingly mediocrity is embraced these days. Is it that there are no performers any more or is it that society's standards are now so low, our acuity of vision to spot skill and talent so diminished, that society doesn't realise the emperors of the innumerable talent shows actually have no clothes.

Take all that fuss over Susan Boyle, a discovery of Britain's Got Talent, a show that did everything possible to prove the opposite. It is almost certainly true that her success is not so much to do with her voice, which is good without being exceptional - she is no Shirley Bassey - but to do with her looks and her promotion on that bastion of good taste, You Tube. As with everything on the Internet, there is no peer review system in place so judgments and opinions are untrustworthy. There are almost certainly hundreds of singers in the UK that sing better than her and maybe some of those have been working clubs and pubs trying to make a success of their careers. These hit and miss talent shows are not there to promote talent - and it is questionable if they would recognise it anyway - they are there to get to good TV ratings. It is very likely they would have promoted Boyle had she not been able to sing - because her appearance was all that was required to become newsworthy - and set beside the other dearth of talent on the show she could still have been a winner.

Cilla Black was discovered and promoted by the then manager of the Beatles. Critics and talent scouts, by virtue of their constant exposure to artists, do learn to spot real talent, as do those artists at the top of their profession. Instead we now have talent being 'discovered' by a fickle and uneducated Joe Public as well as a number of individuals that have achieved little if anything in their own careers. Would these people promote and vote for a young Shirley Bassey or a young Tom Jones. Or a young Cilla Black.


Yule Tide

It is strange to read of the snow now blanketing much of the UK. Today is the first day of December and I imagine that the Christmas lights are on in Oxford Street and shops are full of Christmas fare. But here there is nothing, no Christmas jingles in the shops, not a strand of glittering tinsel. The only visible sign is a few Christmas cards in Tesco Lotus, although I think they are there all year.

Christmas is the time of the year when, if I was going to miss the UK at all, because of fond childhood memories, I would be getting some desire to return, if only for a few weeks. But there is none, not a twinge. We had enough snow to last a lifetime in Canada and Christmas as an adult is all about memories because the reality is just annoying. I cannot revisit sitting with my parents in front of a fire, surrounded by my presents, eating turkey sandwiches and waiting for Mike Yarwood, the Two Ronnies and the Morecombe and Wise shows on TV. When I left the UK Christmas for me was buying enough food to not have to go out and hoping work wouldn't shut down between Christmas and the New Year so I could hide there, (a great time to work as most with families took holiday so work was empty).

That said, next week I will be in Singapore as I was unable to renew my visa here without changing to a non-O visa, something I didn't want to do after all the effort to get the non-B visa. I couldn't demonstrate more than 3 months tax and social security payments and I thought I might have to return to the UK but it seems I can renew in a nearby country and Singapore is convenient as I can visit my sub-contractors, eat some good Western food, see some friends and I know my way around. Singapore also has the most amazing Christmas lights along Orchard road which is as much Christmas as I need.

Work on the house continues apace. Today the concrete supports will be formed and then we have a couple of days of quiet whilst that sets. The floor will be pre-formed reinforced concrete slabs that will probably mean knocking down our coconut palm tree which would be a huge shame as it is as tall as our house.

Last night I was sitting in our local cafe, run by the lady with only one arm and her husband, eating two of my favourite salads, Yum Moo Yaw, (a salad of pork sausage), and Yum Ma Muang Pla Grob, (a salad of green mango and crispy fish), and drinking a bottle of Leo. Ploy was across the road talking to some friends who run a food stall there. Sitting in front of the TV at Christmas all those years ago I couldn't have imagined that forty years later this would now be my home. As I sat outside, shaded from the evening sun, I watched the coming and going of the customers, a few of which spoke to me, ('oh, you like spicy food', 'the weather is nice today', you look handsome in those sun glasses' [really - I am not making that up]), and all of which had a smile for me. How far removed from the West this is where I can travel the nine hours from Brockenhurst to Edinburgh by train with the only person speaking to me being the ticket inspector and no-one smiles. As a loner all my life I find it anachronistic that I have chosen as home a country where community is so important and so much a part of what makes Thailand such a welcoming country. So often I read that if only I understood Thai I would find out that the remarks made are far from complimentary. But I have just enough Thai now to understand what is said and I don't hear those comments. There can be some light hearted banter but I find it is often just an invitation to give some back. But then I think we are lucky living where we are. Isaan is often cited as being the 'true Thailand' which, of course, is nonsense. It is true though that the more heavily populated expat areas, as you would expect, have a more cosmopolitan feel, as any major city has these days. But aside from these instances everywhere is where you find the true Thailand but if you only spend your time in those expat areas you will get a very different view of what Thailand is and what its people are like. Travel broadens the mind, but only if you let it.

I was once told by a wise old woman, when living in Canada and telling her I was moving to Thailand, that it is difficult to live in a country if you don't give your heart to it. If you give your heart, she said, it will give its heart back. That rather sentimental statement makes sense now.


Microfiction Monday No.59

From Susan at Stony River.

I don’t care if she’s a special breed, the bulls won’t mate with her and she doesn’t give much milk. And I don’t want to buy a bird either.


Kow Pat Kapi

Work continues on the house. The passage-way like extension around my workshop has been completed so we now have a dry area to hang clothes, keep all the garden tools and recycling bin. Work has now started on the veranda off of our bedroom.

They have started by knocking down the old concrete walls and the roof over our patio which is surprisingly substantially built. In doing this demolition we have unfortunately had to sacrifice two trees and other garden plants are also taking a battering but things will recover quickly, I'm sure. The veranda is going to be larger than I thought, bigger than our living room. One big advantage of the work has meant that our satellite dish has been taken down so even if Ploy gives in to her inner voice and feels the need to watch a Thai woman being hysterical or some malevolent ghost, she can't. Maybe this is the opportunity to get a more Western broadcaster. There again we hardly watch TV now as I get the news from the Internet and Ploy from newspapers (and gossip) and we are happy just watching DVDs.

The last two nights I have been by myself as Ploy went to Tang Mo's (her daughter) school for some sports event. I wanted to go as well but the Canada company wanted another item which I had to get a demonstrator ready for. In any case the idea of being surrounded by hundreds of teenage girls... Bugger! I didn't think that through, did I.

Mo is turning into a proper little lady although her make-up, (and the other girls), seems be more towards the quantity rather than quality end of the spectrum. She doesn't read this so I can say that. In fact as she doesn't read this I can also say


that her hair (dare I say modelled on something out of Twilight) looks like she has endured electric shock therapy. And no I am not getting old.

There are some nice photos of her though although unfortunately Ploy's sixth sense kicked in as usual just as soon as she sensed the auto focus being trained on her and she immediately went into prison photo mode.

The US order is close to completion and this will be a bit of a watershed for SingMai as it is out last full custom order, (unless we find ourselves destitute in which case we welcome them). Assuming the latter doesn't happen we will only be accepting standard orders with maybe a tiny amount of customisation but no 'blank sheet of paper' specials. The custom orders have allowed us to fund our own projects so they have been good to us but now it is time to say bye bye. So expect to see some stand alone products on a shelf near you in the very near future, including a high end CD player which I am quite excited about.

Next month I have to go to Singapore to renew my non-B visa. I could not renew it in Lop Buri because I couldn't demonstrate more than 3 months tax and social security payments. Given that my visa was only for three months and it took a finite time to get my work permit, to demonstrate more than 3 months tax and social security payments would have required a tardis which I had neither the time not inclination to build. So instead I renew for 3 months but at least it can be done in Singapore where I can always find things to do like visit friends, eat good Western food, visit my tame chiropractor, people watch at the Marriott cafe and visit the company that assembles our products. And I had enough air miles for the trip so it shouldn't prove too expensive.

So back to work after a quick late breakfast/brunch from our local restaurant of one of my favourite 'quick bite' meals, kow pat kapi, which is fried rice (kow pat) with shrimp paste (kapi) and Thai sausage, crispy pork, eggs, spring onions, shredded green mango, green beans and dried chilli. If that doesn't perk me up, nothing will.


George and the Rabbit

Yesterday evening I passed through the 50,000 word target for the NanoWriMo, (write a novel in a month), competition. Coincidentally that accorded with the final chapter, chapter 19, of my novel and I feel quite pleased with the effort, 50,050 words in 25 days and keeping the day job going as well.

I had some sage advice from an author that I am going to abide by. That was to leave the novel for a time, perhaps 1-2 months, and then go back to it and spend the next 9 months rigorously editing and rewriting it. And at the end maybe, just maybe, there is something that might be publishable. And that time will also coincide with the next competition.

Even if nothing comes from this, publishing wise, I have to say I have enjoyed every minute of it. Despite 'getting stuck' in a few places over the plot line, as I say, I think the story is not too bad and as I wrote I realised I was finding 'my voice' or style. I am aware of some inconsistencies and certainly whole chapters are going to have to be rewritten but over all I am happy. If I can get the rewriting done to my satisfaction I believe it will rank with getting my Masters in terms of personal achievement.

And I certainly have got the writing bug. The main protaganist in the book is of course George but as the writing progressed the Rabbit, Hannah, became stronger and replaced Matthew as the other main character. I had originally intended to kill George off and I have left that open but there is the possibility of a sequel with Hannah and George should I feel there is more to be said.

So it is back to full time work now but I want to start another book as soon as possible, although this one is technical non-fiction. I was actually given a contract to write this while ago but that coincided with our move to Thailand and I couldn't find the time. But it is something I would still like to write and it is in complete contrast to George so I think I will give it a go.

I believe I have finally found my vocation.


I Think We've Been Here Before

It is time to renew the 3 month non-B (business) visa I got on my trip back to the UK. We've jumped through all the hurdles to get the work permit so this should be a breeze, shouldn't it. To renew a non-O visa it is a case of proving funds in the bank, filling in the form, maybe a couple of other forms depending on the visa (like a marriage certificate) and then that is that. I have a work permit where we had to do 1000 single finger press-ups in 30 minutes and then run a marathon so this visa should be even easier shouldn't it. So Ploy went up to Lop Buri, our nearest Immigration Office, to get the requirement form list, (as the Internet is so unreliable as we found out with previous applications), and reading through it yesterday it seems it isn't quite as simple as we hoped.

  • Application form TM.7.
  • A copy of the applicants passport.
  • A copy of the work permit.

OK so far.

  • An immigration division document which provides the details of the employing company (Sor. TorMor. 1).
  • Proof of corporate formation (a certificate of incorporation of company or partnership certified by the Registrar with the last 6 months.
  • Certified list of shareholders certified by the Registrar in the last 6 months.
  • A copy of the latest balance sheet and income statement together with corporate income tax return and receipt. Copy of Sor Bor Chor 3 certified by the revenue department or the Business Development Dept. or the auditor or original documents only.
  • Copy of the latest monthly withholding tax return showing the name of employees and the alien (that's me!) applicant together with receipt.
  • Copy of three latest personal income tax returns showing the applicant, together with receipt.

Oh dear! There's more.

  • Copy of three latest monthly social security contribution returns filed with the Social Security office, (from Sor Por Sor 1-10) together with receipt.
  • Copy of the 3 latest monthly value and (sic) tax return (Por Por 30 and Por Por 36) together with receipt.
  • Proof of the need of the business to employ the alien (that's me!) (e.g. no Thai candidate has applied after advertising such a position etc.).
  • Other supporting document required by the competent authority [is that an oxymoron] (Sor Tor Mor 2).
  • Map showing the location of the business.
  • Exterior photographs showing the address and the company name sign.
  • Interior photographs showing the employee while working.
  • In case the applicant is accompanied by their family, their vital statistics (!) e.g. marriage certificate, birth certificate of their children must be provide (sic). If these document were issued by a foreign government they must be certified by such foreign embassy.
  • Not mentioned, but I guess there is a fee involved.

So effectively it is the same mountain of paperwork we needed to get the work permit. These government departments should try talking to each other. I am sure we can do this but if anything this irritates me more than the work permit because it is just the same thing again but all the paperwork has to be updated because it is two months out of date. It is also less convenient to go back and forth to the immigration office. But today we will start the procedure, or rather Ploy will by getting the application form, (anyone want to guess the number of pages), and getting some updated papers from the revenue department. Next week we should be ready to go armed with another small contribution to ease things through, no doubt.

I forgot to mention that this apparently will only give me a further 1 month, (yes, one bloody month!), visa and then I have to go back again to get the 12 month visa (hopefully). And if I need to leave the country in the meantime I then need to get a re-entry permit. That re-entry permit is tied to the visa so when I get the 12 month visa (hopefully) I then have to apply - and pay - for another re-entry permit.

Or I could hop on a plane back to the UK and get a 12 month non-B visa from the Thai embassy in London. Which is it to be?


Microfiction Monday No.58

From Susan at Stony River.

Cedric crashed through the wall after doing his Bambi on ice impersonation but then rather than free him the kids had just ridiculed him.

A Business Meeting

Yesterday we took a couple of hours off to go to a meeting in Bangkok. I had noticed on one of the Linked-In Thai groups a meeting of the confusingly named Bangkok Network of Women where an invited Thai lawyer, Nippita Pukdeetanakul, would talk about foreigners (90% men) owning businesses here, getting work permits, buying land here; that sort of thing. Although we have gone through some of those hurdles already it seemed a chance to fill in our gaps in knowledge and also meet some others that have started a business here.

Well the latter wasn't so fruitful as it seemed all anyone wanted to talk about was how to buy land and condominiums here and, it seemed to me, to demonstrate a frightening lack of knowledge on even the most basic things. There was also an element of 'why doesn't Thailand do things the way my country does - particularly from the Americans, which is irritating. However the talk was interesting and Nippita had a very matter-of-fact way of explaining things - very un-lawyer like. She also had some warnings for those trying the leasing route of owning land, (for beyond thirty years anyway), and she clarified for me why I only have a 39% holding in SingMai instead of the theoretical maximum 49%. I hate to recommend lawyers as they are the spawn of the devil but I was very impressed with her knowledge and straightforward way of speaking. It was only 700 baht to attend and that included a very passable dinner, (choice of three items).

I did also meet one man who has joined an initiative to mentor IT start-ups in Thailand which again I saw on Linked-In. The idea is to follow the US and European model of nurturing and mentoring high technology companies in Thailand. It has been started by one man, (a US citizen), who seems to have enough experience, knowledge and chutzpah to actually make something happen. He is bypassing any government aid and looking at this as a privately funded venture. I have volunteered to help, not entirely altruistically, but it is early days and we shall see if anything might happen.

On the trip to Bangkok Ploy and I were discussing two new enquiries that have landed in my in-box and the fact that things seem to be getting busier by the day. I mentioned to her that I think all the doubts we had for moving here are now all but gone and today I read in the Nation newspaper the government is considering dropping the corporate tax rate, currently 30% for over 3 or 4 million profit (I forget which) to 18% to be more in line with other Asian countries! At the same time Ploy mentioned her visit to a fortune teller who had told her that after a difficult year, (this year), next year the money would rain down on us. Well, whichever it is, and ideally it would be both, for business at least, Thailand is looking more and more attractive. But volatility is word that I closely associate with Thailand so who knows.

On that subject next week I have to renew my non-B visa. This should be straightforward having got the work permit but we have never done this before so we are expecting a few surprises along the way. There are various stories about the length of visa I will be given (another 3 months then a year, one month only and then 3 months and then 1 year or 1 year straight off). We shall see. The immigration office is a little further from us in Lop Buri so we can make a day of it, (although I suspect most of that day will be spent in the immigration office).

The Bangkok meeting yesterday was held in the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on Ploenchit road. I had never heard of this place before but it turned out to quite a small room with the Aljazeera news running on the TVs, a pool table, piles of magazines and newspapers from around the world, black and white photos of past events, (mostly coups and riots it seemed), and a large bar that served the excellent dark Lao beer with which I indulged myself; exactly what you would expect of a press club except there were no pipe smoking octogenarians with their glass of port or Damiens from Drop the Dead Donkey. You don't have to be a correspondent to join the club and they seem to have regular talks and events and a jazz night on Friday but it is too far for us to take full benefit of.

Before the meeting we just had time to eat in the restaurant on the top floor of Central Chidlom department store. It was of those food counter arrangements where you have food from various countries, Thailand, China, Japan, Korea, Italy, etc. and you can mix and match or do whatever you fancy. The food is freshly cooked and I had an excellent Lamb Biriyani with garlic naan and poppadoms, my first Indian food since leaving Canada. It is not that cheap but it was nice to try something different. And on the subject of not that cheap, (450 baht for a glass of white wine), after the meeting I joined up with Ploy (who didn't attend the meeting) at Spassos, the Italian restaurant and nightclub at the Grand Hyatt hotel, which was right next door to the meeting place. Ploy and I used to go there a few times when we lived in Bangkok and it was nice to spend an hour there and listen to the band, (most of whom seemed to be hiding from the Toronto winter). By then it was already 11p.m. and we had a 2 hour drive home but it was a nice evening out.

Today has been dominated by an event we have been dreading all week but which turned out without any issue at all. Today Pinky had her stitches out and as we have both found it very difficult to pin her down just to put some antiseptic liquid on her scar we thought this was going to prove impossible. So what did she do, lay there quietly and but for a tiny yelp didn't squirm at all which made all our prior warnings to the vet about putting her out first make us look rather silly. Now, without her cone head on Pinky is free to lick all those parts she hasn't been able to get at for a week and has been making up for lost time. I just wish as soon as she has done that she doesn't then immediately lick my face all over.

And last but not least, I have now completed just over 80% of the word count for the novel competition. I think I might actually be able to complete this. All you publishers out there had better get your presses running.


Microfiction Monday No. 57.

From Susan at Stony River.

Pedro hadn’t seen Brokeback Mountain but when they started casting leads for a remake of Pale Rider ‘in that style’ he jumped at the chance.


It's a Snip

There are not so many soi (street) dogs in this area, (or dogs with irresponsible owners whose idea of walking them is to turf them out the house to run wild and then round them up some hours later on their motorcycle, something the dogs treat as a game - well we are near Thai cowboy country), but we decided to not risk a Holly incident where we suddenly find we are to be parents to numerous small pups, so we decided it was time to get Pinky spayed.

So yesterday Ploy took her into the vet, paid the 1200 baht fee, and we waited for the call to say she had woken up. Ploy said Pinky hadn't taken too kindly to the attentions of the vet so when we got the call at 3p.m. I came along with her to collect our mutt. I told Ploy to pay particular attention to the instructions on feeding and the drugs as for some reason Ploy has a past history of letting these things go in one ear and the next. She collected the drugs and we went through to a cage in back, past the vet who was operating on another dog that looked like half its face had been bitten off and through to the back. Pinky barely acknowledged us and I couldn't see where the scar was as she lay on her side so we asked for the skilled attentions of one of the vet's assistants. A tall young chap came in, immediately dragged her out of the cage by the scruff of her neck, at which point Pinky started yelping, and then launched her up into his arms and started walking quickly through the practice, past the dog undergoing the facial reconstruction surgery, kicking open the glass front door and the waiting impatiently by the car for Ploy, who having first looked astonished at this prompt and uncaring action, starting running through the vets to open the car door.

Having dumped, and I mean dumped, Pinky in the footwell of the front seat because he would not wait for Ploy to open the back door of the car we slowly drove home. She was clearly in pain and her breathing was laboured and she paid no attention whatsoever to my little talk on this pain being nothing to what she would endure if she was to have pups. Some dogs - and people - just will not listen to considered logic. A small thank-you would have been nice.

Luckily as it turned out, by having her on the floor of the car we could use the floor mats to wrap her up and move her into the house. We lay her down on some cushions and blankets instead of her usual place on the sofa because we didn't want her falling off. She just lay there panting and occasionally crying out as the panting became more vigorous and it stretched her scar. Have they already given her pain killers, I asked Ploy. No idea. I told you ask them. I forgot. Ploy called the vets. No, nothing, just the anaesthetic which is still wearing off. That was clear as her novocain like tongue looked like it wanted to escape and find another mouth to live in. We lay beside her and stroked her but she was clearly still in pain so we decided to give her some of the tablets. (Why do vets insist on giving tablets for animals that will do anything and everything to not take tablets. Pinky will wolf her away through a pile of beef and dried food tablets and leave a nice shiny bowl save for one cunningly disguised tablet. And why do they make the tablets yellow and pink so there is no way to easily disguise them in food). Ploy levered open Pinky's mouth while I threw the tablets into the back of her throat, However the wayward tongue that was flopping around like a drunk trying to find his way home after the pub has shut, skillfully backhanded the tablets out again like a particularly pink and flaccid Roger Federer. Ploy took the tablets and thrust them into the mouth for which she received a nip in return, the first time Pinky has even done that.

Ploy poured some water down Pinky's nose to make sure the tablet was ingested and we let her settle down again. However settle she didn't and she was still crying out regularly in pain. By now the anaesthetic was starting wear off so Pinky decided she should try and walk. Unfortunately her legs had not received the full instruction from the brain yet so every time she tried to get up she wobbled a bit and then fell down, like an overweight and inebriated Bambi on ice, crying out because she'd inevitably land on her wound, and then gamely trying again. Ploy, in her efforts to stop this self mutilation tried to grab her with the result that Pinky fell on top her. At this point Pinky decided to relieve herself on Ploy. And that is where they both quietly lay for over thirty minutes whilst I went off to get a beer. You're doing a great job, I encouragingly said, she's much quieter.

As I write this it is the following morning. We discovered, after many calls to the vet imploring them to give us something stronger for the pain, (something they refused saying it would kill her), we found by accident that what helped the most was for Pinky to lay on top of one of us. She would fitfully sleep, awake because of the pain, but upon immediately seeing one of us, reassured, would close her eyes again. Ploy volunteered. So at this moment Ploy has just gone to bed having stayed up with Pinky all night. And thank you for asking, I did have a good night's sleep. As I came down this morning she sat up, tail wagging, and seemed much more alert. Ploy did none of this. She doesn't seem in so much pain now, I mentioned to Ploy. No, I gave her some of these. What are they? They're the tablets I was given for my pain after my operation in Singapore. That was five years ago. Yes, lucky I still have them. But she is dog and you are not. You do notice there is a difference. Ploy gestures in the same way the magician does when the lady is shown to have recovered after having been sawn in half. But look. Yes, I said, she isn't dead. Well done.



I was given cause yesterday to think again about how well things have sorted themselves out here. SingMai has another serious enquiry, from Canada this time, and we have had confirmation we will get the order from the Taiwan company; both products are 'off the shelf' as it were. My boards are nearly ready from the Singapore company for our first stand-alone product and they should arrive nicely in time for when I have dispatched the large US order. And work on the novel is going well, nearly half way on the word count with only ten days gone, although the harder part is to come. But working on it I have been surprised about how the plot matures and how the characters fill out better. I am still unsure about whether I have enough story to get to 50,000 words but we shall see. It is fun anyway. Yes, I think I can say that.

Ploy is in Laos today with our accountant. She has joined him on one of his weekly, (or, so I am told, sometimes twice weekly), sorties to a casino just over the border, (gambling is illegal in Thailand, save for the official and a number of unofficial lotteries). I am not sure whether it is good to know our accountant gambles regularly.

Ploy did another charity event for SingMai last Saturday, again providing food, (fish balls and a tofu soup), to the people attending a local temple in Prabhat. Again the stall seemed very busy from the photos that were taken but she told me it wasn't as busy as the first one. It doesn't cost us very much to do it, about 2-3000 baht for the food, it is mostly her and a friend's time in the preparation and cooking. (Note: Ploy is the one on the right in the photo below).

Work on the house is progressing well, the walls are up and today he starts the plastering. We have decided to ask him to do another job as well. We have a tiny veranda outside our bedroom, not big enough for even a small chair but a nice toilet spot for the pigeons. So we have decided to extend it out over our porch which will make our porch look better but also give us a place to sit and relax. If I change my Internet to a Wireless connection then I can also work up there. He only wants 20,000 baht for the labour although the materials will be a little costly but once it is done it means all the outside work on the house is complete and we can finally get someone to paint it. If it is finished by Christmas it will also give us somewhere to put our Christmas tree that is Pinky proof.

Talking of the Internet, we had someone from TOT arrive yesterday because I had muttered to Ploy that the Internet was down again and she complained, unbeknown to me, when she went to pay the bill. So three men arrived out of the blue to fix a problem that was never there. We have two Internet connections and the one that had gone down was the other one, not TOT. The first people to provide broadband in this area was 3BB, or Maxnet as they were known before. They didn't have a very good reputation according to the on-line forums so we decided to pay a little more for the premium service which aside from giving faster upload speeds which is handy for e-mails and updating our websites, also guarantees faster access to non-Thai based websites which is probably 100% of the sites I use. We pay 1200 baht/month for that service but it still has interruptions from time to time; sometimes they can take a few hours to fix.

We wanted to get a home phone and fax and 3BB don't offer that so we went to TOT but they will not just install a phone, they want to install Internet too. What the hell, why not, it gives us a backup anyway. So far, whenever 3BB goes down TOT has always been there for us so when these 3 men came they encouraged us to change to their premium service and they said they would give us a wireless router for just 100o baht if we did. Their premium service is faster than 3BB at 6Mb and I have noticed that our existing standard TOT service is actually faster than 3BB's premium service which never gets to its supposed speed, although at 3Mb it is not bad. But we also get the faster upload speeds and this mysterious 'better' access to outside Thailand websites.

Whereas some ask for tall ships and a star to steer her by all I ask is a reliable and reasonably fast Internet. I mentioned my contentment above and it comes from within. I find I don't need social interaction and I think that is a big factor in making a go of it here. I am happy with virtual friends and if I got dragged into the ex-pat gripe zone I think I would soon start to get disillusioned with life here as their prejudices started to become my own. Ploy and I have forged our own path here and we have done it by ourselves with some success. If I tried to interact more with the ex-pat community I think I would lose my enjoyment of living here very quickly. When I read the constant bitching on some of the forums I just sigh and move back to read the cricket scores, I don't have to get involved. Surrounded by these people every day in one of the more populated ex-pat areas would drive me crazy. Of course not all ex-pats are like this but as I don't find I need that interaction to be happy here I don't seek it. This may give the appearance of a hermit like existence and to some degree that may be true but having just turned 53 last Sunday I have finally realised that I don't interact well with people although I am quite good at faking it. I don't work well as part of a team; I may prefer to watch cricket than tennis but if I had to play I would choose to play tennis, and not doubles. I am not tolerant of what I see as other's faults and foibles; they frustrate me as I must seem cantankerous and outspoken to many. We are best kept apart or keeping our face to face social interactions to a minimum. And finally I have found a place where I can do that easily.

The Top Ten Films they should have made

Ellie is running a fun blog thingy today. I'll let her explain:

Inspired by the revelation that Clint Eastwood was asked to play both James Bond and Superman, I’ve decided to hold my first film related blogfest. Ever looked at your favourite actor or actress and thought they should have been Luke Skywalker or Supergirl? Ever wondered how hilariously funny it might have been to watch Danny DeVito play Dirty Harry or Walter Matthau as The Godfather? Well now’s your chance to blog about it. On the 9th November tell us all about your top ten alternate actors and actresses, and the films you wanted to see them in and why.

So here is my offering. I don't believe any further explanation is necessary. Some actors that I feel could imbue these characters with further insight:

  • Marlon Brando : Brother Belcher (Peter Butterworth) from Carry on up the Khyber.
  • Doris Day : Regan (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist.
  • Clara Bow : Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien.
  • Leslie Neilson : Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) in Schindler’s List.
  • Jack Nicholson : Clarence the angel (Henry Travers) in It’s a Wonderful life.
  • Cary Grant : Maximus (Russell Crowe) in Gladiator.
  • Vivien Leigh : Hotlips (Sally Kellerman) in MASH.
  • John Candy : Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) in The Gangs of New York.
  • Dustin Hoffman : Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) in Addams Family Values.
  • Leonard Nimoy : Brian (Graham Chapman) in Life of Brian.

Microfiction Monday No. 56.

From Susan at Stony River.

Ben had buried the neighbour’s cat somewhere here in the summer. Now he couldn’t find where and he thought it must be getting hungry by now.


One of the frequent questions asked of a foreigner by a Thai is, 'does he eat Thai food'. This foreigner does and loves it and after years of coming here, and eating here, knows what he likes and exactly how he likes it cooked. And I (and Ploy) take great pride in the fact that, so far at least, I have not found a Thai who can eat food as spicy as I can. My most fluent Thai is on the subject of food.

I am not sure where the latter ability comes from but as a youngster I used to eat raw spring onions (scallions), dollop mounds of English mustard on my ham sandwiches and scoop buckets of horseradish onto my roast beef so I had a good grounding, (so many things in retrospect seemed to be preparing me for a life here - most strange).

This week however I have mostly, for one reason or another, been on my own in the evening and rather than go out alone I have been cooking for myself and indulging myself with some English treats. Last night, for example, I cooked myself a pork chilli which, although not so English, has always been a favourite of mine. Ploy went out and bought the basis of the sauce for me, chilli and garlic. All that you see there was used in making the chilli. I prefer pork to beef and I also like to use chunks of the fillet rather than ground meat. If anyone else wants to indulge here is the recipe.

  • Heat some olive oil in pan.
  • Slice some onion and cook until translucent.
  • Add the chopped garlic (as the garlic cloves here are quite small I just pop them in whole or maybe chopped in half) and chopped chilli (seeds and all).
  • Add the diced and trimmed pork fillet.
  • Add black pepper and salt.
  • Stir until the meat starts to colour and then turn down the heat and put a lid on the pan and let it cook through for a few minutes.
  • Add a tin of diced tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are warmed.
  • Add a sprinkle of sugar.
  • Add diced green pepper (I could only find red pepper but I prefer green for the colour and the slightly more sour taste). Cook until it softens just a little.
  • Stir in red kidney beans (ours were dried so they had been soaked for a day beforehand with frequent changes of water).
  • Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if required. Add some water if needed and simmer for ten minutes.
  • It is ready to serve. If you like you can serve it with garlic toast and top it with coriander and sour cream. I didn't.

All of the ingredients are easy to find here except for the tinned tomatoes which we have to go to Makro at Lop Buri for. Tonight I think it will be chicken with champ potatoes and peas.


Men at Work

We have men in. Well, one man and a boy; I think his son. My workshop extension, which hangs off the dining room of our house, (which used to be the kitchen until we moved the kitchen to what was the backyard - see here, here and here), has a path running around it, which was the path to the backyard which is now our kitchen. So the path now goes nowhere and it is only used by Pinky for when she is caught short - which is often.

So we have decided to extend the roof of the workshop and build up the walls to cover that area so we can use it as a dry storage place for things like garden tools and the recycle cardboard box and also to dry our clothes when it is raining. Finding someone to do the work is not too easy as the people we have used before - like the people that did our kitchen - are all working on something else. There is also the fact that in Thailand workmen will not undertake small jobs so we have to find lots of other things for them to do at the same time, like paint the whole house or change the garden fences, even though we don't really want to do that at this time. But luckily one chap that tiled the workshop, a small job, but then disappeared because his teenage daughter had disappeared and he had to find her, reappeared, (having found his daughter), and gave a quote for labour of just 7000 baht. Others, who wanted more work, were quoting 50,000 baht, more than we paid to have our entire kitchen built and fitted out. So we accepted immediately and he duly turned up exactly on time at 8a.m. on the Wednesday.

Ploy has to do all the running around to buy, and pay for, materials like the bricks and cement and breeze blocks and steel girders but she would have had to do that for all the offers we had. I also have to take a little care over my tools as the man does not always have the forethought to think through his day's work and prepare himself properly. Within five minutes of arriving he was asking for a paintbrush to paint the girders with protective paint but that is the price you pay, or don't pay, and his work is reasonably good and he is cheerful going about his job. The boy's job appears to be to occasionally mix cement and pick his nose, mostly the latter,while the man's job is to do everything else. At least it is the (relatively) cool season now.

There is a little patio area outside my workshop and we will have that tiled to match the rest of the downstairs. We are just gradually adding a few things to the house as we get income or orders coming in, (and I was told today to expect an order from a company in Taiwan). Labour is so cheap in Thailand there is no p0int in doing the work yourself and as long as the progress is monitored we get it exactly as we want it.

Ploy, apart from running around buying materials, is also preparing for another SingMai charity event on Saturday at a different temple this time. I won't be with her this time as I attempt to complete all the outstanding orders this month as well as get my novel completed, or at least down on the page. Sunday is my birthday but save for a dinner out somewhere I think it will be a working day. That seems of less consequence than it might once had been. Not only because of getting older but birthdays are not big events in Thailand and haven't been in my life for quite some time either. The weeks seem to fly past now; every day seems so full and there are always so many things to do. Not that I am complaining mind. Firstly because it means SingMai is busy but also I get satisfaction in being tired at the end of the day and for all the right reasons.

I need to go, the man appears to not have a certain tool he needs.


Blowing Hot and Cold

I was making myself a chicken salad sandwich when Ploy came into the kitchen and said, 'give me a hug'. As I did so she whispered, 'I've won the lottery'. Previous wins of a couple of thousand baht didn't usually warrant this show of affection so I pushed her away a little and I looked down at her smiling face. 'Neung sen', she said. "How much'! The smile became a grin. 'Neung sen baht...really';. (100,000 baht or about $3350). Ploy didn't sleep much last night and at 7a.m. was dressed and off to Prabhat to collect her winnings. Maybe I should stop this SingMai caper and become a kept man.

Yesterday the first task of this hectic month was completed as we opened a bank account in my own name so I can put my salary in there, something I couldn't do here in Saraburi without a work permit; the payment evidence is required for the visa renewal. I wanted to choose Kasikorn bank as that is where the company account is so I could transfer the money on the Internet but Ploy persuaded me to go to the Bangkok Bank as that is where we opened our joint account and the old battle axe that fronts customer service has since mellowed considerably as we have become frequent visitors there; Kasikorn is also much busier which is what finally swayed me. I also got free life insurance, (for Ploy if I die - my account, Ploy's benefit, and with her lottery win means I shall be careful to get Pinky to try my food first in the future), and it was quite nice to get my own bank book with my solitary 50,000 baht salary payment and my own VISA ATM/debit card, (300 baht fee).

The weather is decidedly cool now and quite windy in the mornings. I watched the school children go to school this morning all wrapped up in coats as the temperature drops to 20degC and I know what they mean, it feels really cool; how did we ever survive in Canada. And as we don't have an electric shower the cold water showers are becoming much briefer than they used to be, they are no place to linger. We have even bought Pinky a coat as she sleeps outside and she must be feeling the cold because she has made no attempt to get it off and sneeks in the house whenever she can to sleep on the sofa.

The 'write a novel in a month' competition has started and so far I have a chapter outline and 2742 words which is not bad after a day and a bit. But this is the easy part as the first four chapters have a clear synopsis. After that it a bit more of a wing and a prayer. But as inspiration this article showed that getting the words down on paper in a burst of inspiration can actually lead to publication, if you happen to be Conan Doyle or Dickens that is. At the moment I don't feel I have got enough anger in my main character to warrant his actions but maybe that will come.



My first wife was a Christian although I didn't know that when I first met her as there were no obvious outwards signs like stigmata. But when I met her parents for the first time I was warned to expect certain things, like them sitting and reading the bible aloud to each other in the evening and having to wait at dinner until grace was said which was usually five minutes after I watched the gravy congeal and form an impenetrable skin.

Worse still, it became clear that some of her friends were the arm waving sort of Christian zealots that really should just be all rounded up and sent to the West Bank. Their local Methodist minister refused to marry us because I was not a Christian, (and I refused to pretend to be so), and when it was discovered I was not even christened as a child, (something I am forever grateful to my mother for), it was clear to all I must be in cahoots with the devil and I was subverting their precious daughter. No worries there though, they had already done more than enough damage in that regard.

I actually had first hand experience of these born-again zealots when, by mistake, a friend and I attended a 'guitar recital' to be given by a new colleague at work. I like the guitar, I thought, and he is from out of town and probably a bit alone - OK he may not be Jan Akkerman - but why not. Well he did play guitar, that bit was true, and the fact the event was held in a church hall didn't set alarm bells ringing, not straight away anyway, but when the ''concert' started everyone immediately stood up with their arms in the air and started chanting. I wasn't used to that until later in a concert; at least that was my experience of Barclay James Harvest and Black Sabbath concerts. This had barely started and I didn't recognise what they were playing. But then they all started squirming and wriggling and they clearly were no longer playing along to the music. Someone mentioned

Jesus - a lot - and Jesus wasn't a band member, in fact he wasn't even at the gig apparently. My friend and I, still seated, looked at each other, looked at the closed door with what look like bouncers guarding it and made a run for it cartoon style through the door. We were so fast getting out of there we smashed the indicator light of another car (it was icy) but we didn't want to go back in there so we just drove to nearest pub as fast as we could. To this day the owner of the car probably thinks he had been given a sign. He had been.

So when Ploy tells me of her friend who was possessed by some woman elephant-headed god as a young woman I just nodded. And when Ploy told me of the big party this woman was giving to say thanks to the same god for saving her from insanity I just nodded. It didn't work I thought, but never mind, it's harmless enough. But when Ploy brought home the head monk and one of those hangers on that senior monks always seem to have I started to get worried as this hanger on recited a similar experience he had had of possession. The monk, before leaving, then told Ploy to rearrange our furniture feng shui style before telling Ploy I should attend the party in the evening as it would 'be good for me'. Well this heathen did not attend and I was fast asleep by 8p.m. despite the noise of the party two blocks away. But judging by the photos Ploy took it was a good thing I didn't go as they bear remarkable resemblance to my born again Christian experience except here they are dressed more colourfully, (you can see the photographs here). Remember also that as with the Christian crazies there is no alcohol involved here although there is probably betel nuts judging by the colour of some their mouths. Never trust a party that gets out of hand without alcohol being involved. What we have here seems to be a collective frenzy where the animalistic roots of Hinduism and Buddhism seem to have come to the fore.

Ploy seems to have survived the event unscathed and so far the furniture is still in the same place. But then today is another busy day as it is the SingMai charity event and an exhibition of the devotional side of Buddhism that is far more familiar (and acceptable) to me.

Our local temple, which is just across highway 1 from us, provides free food to those that come to make merit on Sunday and today we are one of those donating free food. So at 5.30a.m. Ploy goes off to the market to buy fish balls, (by that I mean table tennis ball sized objects made from fish and other things), and a sweet chilli dip. Armed with gas bottle, bottles of oil, plastic dishes, various cooking implements and most importantly our new SingMai banner we both go off to set up our stall. As a foreigner I am not expected to help with the cooking and I am quickly pushed to one side as an army of previously invisible helpers start heating the oil, pouring out the dips and cutting slits in the fish balls to speed the cooking.

I am instructed to wander around the temple which I do accompanied by the chants of the monks emanating from the loudspeakers; Gregorian chant this isn't but but it is not unpleasant and a huge improvement over the party 'music' of the night before which constituted a bass heavy sound through a heavily distorted sound system with some woman screeching whilst I presume giving breech birth to a large buffalo; yes, it's even worse than the Osmonds singing Crazy Horses. I didn't try to get into the temple as there were people spilling out of the entrance and down the stairs so I wandered around the smaller unoccupied temple building, around the various statues and by the time I came back our stand was inundated with hungry visitors so I gestured to Ploy and walked home, leaving her serving the hoards.

Hopefully this will the first of many philanthropic gestures by SingMai, especially if we can find an orphanage to support that helps young Vietnamese women.

Microfiction Monday No. 55.

From Susan at Stony River.

Barry had his own version of trick or treat. He would dress up, knock on each door in turn and then expose himself to the lady of the house.


Do you remember the address where we lived in the UK, asked Ploy. No idea, I said without thinking; why? We need it to get your tax number, (we being Ploy and our accountant). Oh, you mean our last address before we came to Thailand, that was in Canada, I reminded her. No, I need our address in the UK. But that was eight years ago, we have lived in two other countries and who knows how many houses and apartments since then. That is the address they need because you have a British passport. But that doesn't make sense, we don't own that house anymore, we haven't lived there for eight years, what possible use is it to give that address. Just give me the address will you! We thought hard together and came up with something resembling it or at least in the same town. It doesn't matter if it's correct, said Ploy, any address in the UK will do. And so I got my tax number and the following day I got by social insurance number. Apart from that memory recall event I didn't have to do anything, they just magically appeared.

I am paying myself 50,000 baht/month which is the government's minimum requirement to get a work permit and qualify for the social insurance which gives me free health care at government hospitals. The tax people also give us a form telling us how much tax is payable on that, a princely 3,083 baht, 33 satang per month, or about 6%. Ploy said the tax people said it was a lot. A lot! I wrote in previous post I think our cost of living here is about one eighth what it was in Canada. So my 50,000 baht salary would be CA$13,700/month equivalent in Canada. Incredibly I did earn that salary when I moved to Canada and I paid about 45% tax on it. Even when I had my own company and paid myself the minimum I could to survive I paid 30% tax. 6%. That is nothing.

When we send things abroad we tend to use EMS, the Thai express postal service. It is cheaper than Fed-Ex or DHL and gets the stuff there just as quickly. They can collect but we don't have many parcels so Ploy goes into the Saraburi post office and in return they give us free cardboard boxes and the forms so we can fill them in in advance. However it appears they don't do delivery. If we receive goods they usually get sent by Fed-Ex. However one customer in Taiwan chose to use EMS. It promptly arrived the next day - in Bangkok. In the afternoon we received a form from the postman telling us of this event which had to be signed three times. What we didn't receive was the parcel. Ploy called the number on the form and apparently we have to collect it from Bangkok, a two hour drive each way. Ploy takes these things her stride, (probably because it gives her an excuse to go shopping in Bangkok). I don't.

Yesterday my websites crashed. Both of them, SingMai and DanPloy. It is the first time in 6 years with the Singapore hosting company I have noticed any outage at all. But this lasted for nearly a whole day. I got an apologetic e-mail yesterday afternoon saying the server completely crashed and they had to rebuild everything on a new machine. Unfortunately the website statistics are not back yet and maybe they cannot recover them. That is shame as this year was looking to be the busiest ever for DanPloy with well over a million hits in the year. If they don't get the statistics back I guess I will never know.

Ploy went to visit a friend yesterday, (the girl that took Holly, the Dalmatian, from us), and found clear evidence that the floods are far from receding yet. In our immediate vicinity things have largely dried up but this road, now river passable only by boat, is only 5 km from us. I hear they are still letting water out from the over-full dams which is still swelling the rivers. Luckily we have had no more rain since Monday.

Next Monday the 'write a novel in a month' competition starts. I have got my word document ready with the title page and I have found the opening chapter I wrote all that time ago. I know that is cheating but it needs re-writing anyway as the character's roles have all changed. I have also written a brief chapter outline which has taken me to 13 chapters before the exciting denouement. The chapter that is written is 2500 words long so I need to find another 7 chapters to get to 50,000 words or write longer chapters. I can't see me being able to do this. For certain the US order will not be finished by then so I will have to balance that with the novel writing. November is going to be a long month.

Microfiction Monday No. 54.

From Susan at Stony River.

Ever since Matt had left his bullying classmates all those years ago he had hatched plans to end their puerile existence. Now was that time.


Matt didn’t know they were going to go swimming or he wouldn’t have come. How he regretted getting that ‘I love Betty Rubble’ tattoo now.


Returning to Normal

Today is Chulalongkorn day, commemorating the death of one of the enlightened kings that Thailand has been so fortunate to have. This means that I have instructions to wake Ploy at 6a.m. so she can prepare 5 tonnes of pad nor mai, (stir fried chicken with red curry paste, bamboo shoots and holy basil leaves), rice and and various other offerings to the monks at the local temple. It also means the air in the house is thick with the smog of incense similar to what Singapore is experiencing now. And Monday is a holiday although that doesn't mean so much to me at the moment as I am still trying to complete the large US order.

Getting the work permit has, for both of us, been a final vindication of our decision to move here. On Friday Ploy did her usual weekly thing of moving money around our various accounts, (in an attempt to get a credit card from a Thai bank, as Ploy has been out of the country for so long, it seems the current wisdom is you show activity in your account rather than leaving a lump sum there - neither has worked so far), and on her return I entered the amounts into my Excel spreadsheet. Although it has been an expensive month what with the car insurance renewal and the work permit payments we did get paid for one small order which more than covered the outgoings so on balance we were actually a little up.

And I also noticed in the documents for the work permit that the company assets have now risen from the starting 2 million baht share issue - only on paper of course - but still a nice feeling. Next week Ploy will get tax and social fund numbers for me, ('my job', she proudly tells me after her success with the work permit), and then I can open my own bank account to 'prove' my monthly salary payments. So although things have not changed in our day to day work, that work permit has given a real sense of belonging here now, a nice blue comfort blanket. In contrast, after 3 years being in Canada I was effectively left working illegally for my own company, yet paying taxes for the same, and with little prospect of getting a work permit based on self-employment.

The flood waters are slowly receding although only a couple of our preferred restaurants are accessible yet. The one we went to last night had just opened after 4 days of closure. Everyone has stories to tell and we were quite fortunate to not have any flood water come in the house. The reaction to all of this, (despite some criticism in the news today), has been quite eye opening for me. The government have been very quick, even though it has not been so severe here, to distribute rice, drinking water and canned foods to everyone locally, (Ploy gave ours to the more needy apparently). Driving around last night to buy fruit and flowers for today we passed by a fair at the government buildings which was to raise money for the flood victims. Ploy and her friends, who have a large kitchen as they cook food for one of the local schools, have been cooking and distributing food to the workers that have been helping with our flood defences and they are not the only ones; there is a real community spirit here and people are not just doing it to look good as it were, most donations are anonymous.

Ploy took the latest photos of the floods and when I downloaded them from the camera I noticed a photo of a cow. I had to query it as I had not seen any cow in these here parts and the farm land around us is all crops. It's a pet Ploy said. The owner was drinking somewhere, (drink is usually involved in such stories), when he overheard a group of men talking about taking a cow to be slaughtered. In a moment of compassion for the said cow he offered these men money to buy the cow from them which they accepted and he is the now the proud owner of one such animal. He, however, does not have a field or any grazing area for the poor thing so I am not sure it is better off and I don't think he can get rid of it now else the good karma points he has earned will be more than offset by the bad ones. I should be grateful that Ploy only brought home a Dalmatian I suppose.

Ploy has also bought two sets of commemorative coins to celebrate the King's 60th anniversary of his accession to the throne for a, lucky for someone, 999 baht a set.

Ploy is getting a banner made with SingMai's name and logo on it, and worse, both of our pictures; I am frightened it will look like those political banners I see in town promoting various local government candidates with death mask faces, usually riding a horse, ('cowboy country' is just north of here). On the 31st of this month, at our local temple, food will be cooked and given free for the poorer people in the area. Ploy wants this event to be the first of many charitable donations by our company and she wants to be sure people know it. Just how many customers we will get for our $30,000 video decoder IP core I am unsure.


Work Permit

Ploy got the call this afternoon and within minutes we were at the Labour Office to receive my lovely one year work permit. To show how things have changed since Ploy took charge my tormentors at the office even lent us 1000 baht so we could pay the government fees, (we thought they had already been paid by the lawyers - they certainly charged us for it). But now is not the time to gripe. Yes, we will be celebrating tonight.


Nam Tuam

Nothing brings out the sense of fun of the Thai people, (or our dog), like water, evidenced most clearly in their New Year celebrations. However an intense low pressure area towards the end of the rainy season brought continuous heavy rain for over 48 hours with the result the streets outside our house were flooded, not just with water, but with Thais, who rather than stay in and watch from a distance immediately threw off their shoes to go wading.

As I write this the water is still rising and is now lapping at our gate with the forecast showing a 90% chance of further heavy rain.


The Failed Experiment.

It was nice try but one that is now to be consigned to the dustbin. It is now official, Mankind just cannot get along. This issue is now heightened by Mankind's greed which has left us bankrupt, not just in the pocket but morally as well and poverty only heightens our protectionism. And we are not talking about huge cultural differences here. The Germans have failed to fully integrate with the Turks, (or the Turks with the Germans), and they are right next door to each other. No wonder the Indians, Chinese or Americans can't integrate in Europe given their huge cultural differences.

Far more significant than any perceived War Against Terror is what is happening within the countries themselves. Any attempt to drag back some sense of fiscal responsibility is met with resistance. Over 50% of people in France would support whatever action is required to thwart the proposed increases in the pensionable age. So what is the alternative these people are proposing? I guess whatever is French for status quo. Don't shake the boat because I am OK just as I am, although I could always do with a little more. Everything would be just fine of course if you got rid of those immigrants.

On Wednesday the UK government announce their spending cuts to try and claw back a little of the avarice of previous decades and already they are having to be tempered down because someone realised that cuts probably mean less money to spend or people losing jobs. Fine if it is not my job or my money. But what about those immigrants getting all those free benefits, get rid of them and everything would be fine, just like the old days, even though immigrants contribute a greater percentage of tax (10.2%) than their population would suggest (8.7%). Perhaps some of those 30 million on benefits could cut back a little. 30 million!. Half the population of the country is on benefits of some kind and no-one can see why there might be an issue. But they are still going to spend some 15 to 34 billion pounds (depending who you talk to) on a new nuclear deterrent. Let's just spell that out; 34,000,000,000 pounds! The end of mankind is not coming from outside the country, it is coming from inside. It is your own citizens that are the terrorists, it is your own citizens that are making the country bankrupt and it is your own citizens that are stirring up racial hatred.

The idea, (if it ever was that), that we can all just get along was flawed from the start. It does mean that, aside from a few instances, countries no longer fight countries so we can hide behind some false justification for war. The new wars will be citizens fighting citizens like some huge playground fight but with no teachers to come in and restore order. The 'wars' in Iraq or Afghanistan or Israel are not countries against countries but people against people. They are Afghanistanis against Afghanistanis and Iraqis against Iraqis fuelled by Western ignoramouses shouting 'Fight' 'Fight' 'Fight' who are only there anyway because they want to steal Bunter's lunch box.

So while these squabbles continue and continue to get worse, small things, like the destruction of biosphere become unimportant. As consensus is clearly impossible in your own country how can any consensus ever be achieved between countries. Exactly what part of the country is agreeing the consensus anyway.

The great thing about this is the Creationists will eventually have to admit that evolution does work because it is evolution that eventually will wipe out Mankind because it cannot be allowed to continue as it is and it has had more than enough time to sort out its problems and work together. Whilst we stupidly contribute to our own downfall the racist and greed gene has been passed from generation to generation whilst the tolerance and altruism gene has been eradicated.

It was a nice experiment but it is time to put the lid on the petri dish and try something else.


Microfiction Monday No. 53.

From Susan at Stony River.

Ophelia was shaking off the past. Finally she was getting double glazing and later she was getting a Black Sabbath tattoo and nipple rings.


The Water Jump

The water jump has been negotiated and although we did put one foot in the water we are clear and the finish line is in sight. Two people came from the Labour office to inspect us Friday morning. Luckily we were given some notice so we could tidy everything and Ploy went out to buy some fruit as an 'offering' and also went to the ATM to reinforce the gift if necessary.

By the time they had arrived we had no staff. One couple were at the hospital where they had to take their newborn because he was sick, (genuinely, but not very good timing for us), and our accountant was late as always, (we told him to be here at 8.30a.m., it was now 9.45a.m. and he was still not here, and he was bringing his sister, our fourth member of staff). So I was sent upstairs to be as invisible as our staff as Ploy went to greet the officers and convince them our staff were in fact real and the fact they couldn't see them was they worked so fast.

Ninety minutes later they left and Ploy called me down. By now we had two staff but Ploy seemed to think it had gone quite well anyway despite the absenteeism but we needed more documents. My head dropped.

I have to go to the bank she said, to get a letter to prove we are really trading, (the bank book was not enough). Also they wanted evidence of my previous employers which I was sure I wouldn't have; I don't keep such things. However I waded through the few documents I did have and found an old 5 year service award certificate and a couple of yearly tax returns which were to luckily prove adequate. Ploy, back from the bank armed with her letter and taking all my education certificates, just in case, went back again to the Labour office, returning two hours later.

One more thing she said, but this time it seemed reasonable. The invitation letter penned by the immigration lawyers gave my job title differently to the company organisation chart, penned by the same. They wanted to know which it was so they could issue the work permit. Issue it, I said. Yes, Ploy said, you have got your work permit, we just need to write a new letter which Ploy will do today (Saturday) with our accountant. So the fruit offering, (with 1000 baht contribution to the temple for which we get a tax receipt!), did its job; on Monday the application should finally be accepted.

One more task remains. A letter of complaint to the lawyers in Bangkok. The Labour officers told Ploy we didn't need to use any lawyers and in fact it is better not to do so because these issues always arise. As we have done all our visas ourselves prior to this, did everything including permanent residency in Singapore ourselves, I don't know why we didn't do this ourselves. Ploy is competent, charming and persuasive and it is due to her I should get that blue book next week, (our accountant is also very competent and has suitable contacts to get the necessary advice, I just wish he would be more timely).

The lawyers, if anything, jeopardised the application and I am sure, if Ploy had not taken over, we wouldn't have got it. When we first met them in person after weeks of e-mails and sending them scanned documents the first thing they asked for was additional documents. Even armed with them and an assurance they would call the Saraburi Labour office in advance to 'pave the way' the first application was rejected. The medical certificate has to be obtained locally, not in Bangkok as we had been advised by the lawyers, and which also cost me a day off to go to the Bangkok clinic and 400 baht in fees. Our marriage certificate needed to be certified by the British embassy, (in person again, for a 1900 baht fee), and then translated into Thai and the translation certified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No it didn't, the marriage certificate could have just been translated in Saraburi next to the Labour office, (and I didn't need to go the embassy myself for the certification in any case). There were the company documents that were missing and the insistence that a resume was enough and I didn't need my education certificates - wrong again; proof of previous employment was required; colour photocopies are not acceptable; the map showing our location has to be hand drawn not printed from Google; the photographs were not correct, (and were only forced on the lawyers by us in any case because they didn't think we needed them); we needed a bank letter; the offer letter and company organisation chart did not match and the offer letter did not include necessary information such as my shares. The lawyer fees cost us about 15,000 baht excluding the government fees. And at no point did we get any peace of mind which the reason we employed them in the first case.

They have actually been nothing short of incompetent and misleading so if you want their name, it is SunBelt and you can be sure we won't be using their services again. Yes there are difficulties, like each region of Thailand having different rules and the fact the permit is for our own company and not for an established company with many Thai staff - but then that is why we employed them in the first place.

We should know by now. Most transactions in Thailand are personal affairs; using a lawyer prevents that as they submit the application, (even the offer letter says it was written by them which is a strange piece of advertising given the errors in it). Once Ploy met the officer in charge of my application she actually said she was just doing her job and warmed to her; if we did anything wrong she told us clearly and politely how to correct it. And when we go back to renew the work permit in the future we will now have that contact again. Of course you do need someone like Ploy to do this and she is sleeping the sleep of the dead at the moment as it has taken so much from her. Her vegetarian fast came to end last night so today I think I need to take her out for a slap up meal somewhere.

Hitler Noi

If there was an Olympic medal for Little Hitlers Thailand would certainly be in the running for at least silver, possibly just usurped by that woman at Canadian Immigration in Singapore who asked (loudly instructed me) to get my visa photo done again because my head was 1mm too large in the ones I had just had done.

Yesterday we applied again for my work permit based on my new non-B visa and the application was accepted, although not without one or two conditions.

Ploy had to go out and find a photocopier whose toner had run out in 1972 because the colour photocopies we gave "didn't look real". That was every page of my passport, her ID card and a pile of other stuff equivalent to half of Khao Yai National park's trees. She then signed everything on my behalf because she didn't want to return home again and ask me to sign them. The plain white sheets of paper with the blue signatures (not black) and faint marking similar to the Turin Shroud were duly accepted.

We had taken photos of our obligatory company sign outside of our workshop but we had taken them with the staff unsmilingly stood to attention below it. That was not acceptable; we had to take another photo of the sign by itself. 'Why', I asked Ploy, 'did you not just take that photo and tear it in half thereby immediately fulfilling the Hitler Noi's requirement'. 'Just do it', she said. She had been there almost all day the poor thing.

We had also taken photos inside the workshop with the staff diligently at work. However what we failed to do was take a photo of the desk where I would be working should I ever receive my work permit. So this morning we cleared a desk and took a photo of the said forlorn empty desk and chair. I of course should not be in this photo as I am not here yet, I am some ethereal being that is only talked about but not to.

Lastly Ploy needs a contract of employment for myself, something that seemed obvious to me but not to the immigration lawyers who insisted we didn't need one. A couple of hours later we received an example contract which we could then just print out; after some diligent editing because the one sent had, Thai style, been formatted by an epileptic monkey and there were little bits of text lying all over the page looking like the aftermath of a tornado at a mobile home site. Ploy has just gone out to get that witnessed by two people. If you were going to ask why that particular document needs witnessing by people who have absolutely no concern about our company and don't need to be professionals or accredited, DON'T!.

Ploy returns to the Labour office today armed with the new papers. So another hurdle in the steeplechase is cleared. We still have the waterjump to contend with which is the obligatory visit from the Labour office to check everything is real and we did not simulate the photos on a holodeck. I have to disappear for that event of course as I am not really here.

Whilst I complain to Ploy about this (incessantly) it her that has to be nice in front of these people. It is times like this you need someone to hug.


Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives

Sipping my early morning coffee whilst wandering around the Internet ether I noticed a writing competition on Ellie's blog. National Novel Writing Month: write a 50,000 word novel in one month, from scratch. I had heard about it before, I think E@L contemplated it once, but I preferred the idea of a year spent in a beach hut listening to seagulls with a particularly fine Sauvignon Blanc on tap for writing my masterpiece.

But then I thought, well November is the month of my birthday, one of those coincidences that are only coincidences but can seem like fate tapping you on the shoulder. And the need for me to write - anything - has been getting stronger. I should have finished the big order by then, (actually not likely but I put that detail to one side and listened to the tapping instead), November is the beginning of the cool season here I reasoned, I could write on the porch watching the sun set as inspiration. Yes, fate was conspiring.

But what to write. Well one of the few rules of the competition is it has to be a novel. So the art history book, 'The Four Dimensions of Art', is a no-goer and it probably should have proper research done for it anyway. The semi-autobiographical 'Home Thoughts from a Man' is already printed out in an untidy pile waiting for some prudent editing and a couple of complete re-writes. So it has to be 'George and the Rabbit' for whilst a chapter exists somewhere on this laptop, (although that will have to be re-written), it does have a synopsis, and it is (could be) a novel. A story of teenage angst, in a middle aged man, that leads to murder. A sort of humorous (hopefully) thriller (hopefully). Yes that is what I will do. For at least the first three days. And then I will find some excuse, (work, illness, family bereavement, alien abduction, dog needs neutering), to justify my withdrawing from the competition.


Microfiction Monday No. 52.

From Susan at Stony River.

The train was late. But Marjorie knew she probably had a few days before neighbours called the police and they find Frank’s mutilated body.

Another Week Passed...

...but not so much to say. Contentedness. I am even able to read about the US self destructing without feeling the need to rant on about why any sane person would vote against Obama when the only option is to vote in someone who thinks the world is only 10,000 years old. I was never one for joining rallies or demonstrations anyway - there is certain passivity to my passions - so I will just observe from a distance and relish watching people's greed overcome any residual intelligence. Otherwise I seem to have reached a state of mind where I am able to just go with the flow. Work goes on and I am enjoying it. I have another possible customer from Taiwan which I would put at over 80% chance of getting the order, the big US order is progressing, albeit slowly, and the PCBs for our first standalone product are being assembled. Last night I had a couple of beers with some near neighbours which was a nice change and gave me chance to try out my sparse Thai; no discussions about philosophy or poetry, just favourite beers and football.

Ploy has gone vegetarian for 10 days because of the Chinese vegetarian festival. Ploy goes to the Chinese temple in town to have her meals most days whilst I, unable to join her, eat out somewhere else or cook at home. I say unable because I just don't think I could ever become vegetarian even for a few days. Whilst I accept the treatment of animals is appalling in some cases I see that as a separate issue to whether we should eat meat or not. Assuming the animal has been killed as painlessly as possible I don't have any objection to eating it. And I do know how to skin a rabbit and pluck a pheasant, courtesy of living in the New Forest, so I'm not someone who is overly distanced from the reality of the killing.

It is not that I am just a meat and potato person either, I love my salads in particular, but I also need my tuna or chicken or crispy fish on my salad. That said I have noticed that I rarely eat beef anymore although that is because good beef is very hard to find locally, (and the last time I treated myself to beef in Bangkok I spent the next two days sat in the smallest room in the house). So I mostly eat fish followed by pork followed by chicken in order of popularity.

Last night was Tom Yum Goong, (an intensely spicy and sour soup with prawns, lemon grass, lime leaves and galangal - and chilli), Pla La Gluay which is is a tiny fish, similar to whitebait which is coated in a spicy flour and deep fried - like devilled whitebait you eat the whole fish - and Pla Luak Jim, pieces of fish boiled in water served with shredded ginger and a leafy vegetable, (Bai Krung Chai), a bit like a larger version of coriander, which is served with a spicy dip. Ploy meanwhile had stir fried vegetables which is more an accompaniment in my view, a side dish to the main entree. And I know from the way she viewed my table at the restaurant when she returned from her vegetarian feast that once her self-imposed meat vigil has expired she will be back to fighting me for the prawns again.

My Second Fifteen Minutes of Fame

I had assumed that my fifteen minutes of fame had already been used up when, at fifteen, I appeared in a television special with Patrick Moore talking about local astronomy groups and how we got interested in astronomy, (as we were not far from his home in Selsey, Sussex).

However, topping that, I was recently asked by Mike Rose of the British Expats Directory if I would answer a few questions about being an expat and he has produced a nice little article from it. Mike's is one of only two Thai related websites I bother to read regularly. There are a lot of others out there but they either have content that doesn't interest me much or are poorly written, (which I must admit really irritates me), or don't get updated very frequently. Mike's websites don't fall into any of those compaint categories.

There is a possibility, for a few days at least, that my unique visitors statistics will rise above 2!

Microfiction Monday No. 51.

From Susan at Stony River.

The winged horse is nice, thought Amy, but if he thinks continually flying around phalluses is putting me in the mood he should think again.


Quiet at the Back There!

I remember the television chef Ken Hom being asked why he had not washed the vegetables before cooking them. 'Well' he explained 'if anything survives this heat, (of the oil in the wok), it deserves to live'. That, and the copious quantities of chilli in the food here may explain why, in thirty years of visiting Thailand and now over one year of living here I can only recall getting food poisoning once, and that was on my second or third visit if I remember correctly.

It is somewhat ironic therefore, that my second case of the trots should have come from Western food during a 'special lunch' that I afforded myself the luxury of during a visit to Bangkok. I shall discretely not mention the restaurant by name but as I had not eaten eighteen hours before or twelve hours afterwards it does seem likely that that lunch was the offending meal. In hindsight the meal was not the best choice; duck liver pate followed by beef tartar with a table side mayonnaise made from raw egg yolk of course and followed with creme brulee. Delicious at the time its memory is now forever tainted by the numerous subsequent visits to the bathroom. To make matters worse I paid for that solitary lunch what both of would pay for an entire week of eating out locally.

It was the evening of the first day that I finally asked Ploy to visit the pharmacy to see if she could get some Imodium as I felt by then the only things remaining to be passed were my organs. Surprisingly she returned with Imodium, (pharmacies locally rarely stock any brand names and supply everything in identical plastic bags of a maximum of 8 pills), but also with some other tablet that 'kills bacteria'. 'How many do I take', I asked. 'Two', she replied. 'Two of these, or two of these', I countered. 'Two of these', she asserted. 'Or was it two of these'. I tried to read the scrawl on the plastic bags but it looked identical on both. I had decided on one Imodium (bright green capsules) and two of the innocent looking white tablets as I didn't want my next bowel movement to be February 2013; I am fat enough already. But Ploy decided it was the other way around and swiftly thrust the tablets into my hand whilst pouring water down my face and onto the bed. That's love right there I thought.

So today is a day of quiet in all departments after an undisturbed night having ate a small innocent salad the evening before. But not having eaten for nearly 3 days I don't have the energy to do much. Ploy has gone to Bangkok today to deliver the final, final (no really) final documents for my work permit application and also to see her daughter.

As Ploy is away I have been left to care for Pinky, a duty that Ploy is normally obligated to undertake because she wouldn't take her to the meat market when I asked her to. Now six months old and weighing in at over 20kg she has become part of the furniture now - she certainly has consumed enough of it anyway - and even though she is destructive and clever, a dangerous combination, she is also showing one or two cuter traits. There is no getting rid of her anyway without the hassle of divorce although when she brought home a dove to play with yesterday Ploy actually got concerned. That is just the beginning I thought as I dusted it down, checked out its functionality, and perched it on a tree branch as far away from Pinky as I could get. (The next day she went back to play with it again and unbelievably caught it again and took it back to her kennel. The bird is obviously a masochist or maybe it is just a typical Thai bird that is willing to put up with being mauled by an huge older person if she thinks it has wealth). Pinky now knows instructions to sit and lay down and leave and 'NO!' which is a catch it all for 99% of everything she does. But she is not a barker, seems friendly with people and other dogs, (and birds), and she seems to like us. As I write this she is indoors for her early morning siesta which prepares her for a light lunch before her afternoon siesta which she normally has outside so she can sit on the patio in the sun. If it is raining she likes to come inside - she likes to but I am in charge today. Mwaahahaha!

'To Greed, all Nature is Insufficient'

Q. When is enough, enough? A. When I have more than anyone else.

So the trade unions in the UK are readying themselves for strikes in opposition to the, yet to be announced, austerity measures which are aimed at trying to slightly address the huge deficits the country has. In France they are striking because the government wants to increase the pensionable age from 60 to 62 because it can't afford to pay the pension even as it stands. People in Greece recently rioted because of the government's austerity measures, a condition of getting the bail out money from the EU. The Labour party has a new leader that it seems no-one voted for and who, as Christina Patterson has observed; 'When did these media-savvy, metropolitan, middle-class middle youthers start emanating the air of a super-race charged with the slightly tiresome task of tidying the rest of us up?' Banks are back to paying obscene bonuses to morally bankrupt staff who, unable to convince greedy house owners to take on a loan for a house that would dwarf the loans offered to a small South American country, have instead taken to asset stripping the planet, 'treating the biosphere like a business in liquidation'. And things are so bad in the US that the Liberace museum in Las Vegas is going to close.

So here in Thailand we are in the eye of the hurricane, waiting for the red shirts to lose patience again, waiting for the yellow shirts to feel the status quo is about to be upset. The odd bomb or grenade goes off Bangkok, almost unnoticed, rather like I used to read of the bombs in Belfast killing a few people every day and treating the news with the same weight I would news of Chi-Chi and An An's latest failed attempt to make a baby panda. But greed will drive those red protests on because nothing has changed, not even a token offering from the government who have now conveniently hidden behind some appointed panel responsible for suggesting that there should be no change after a suitable period of reflection. Greed may be an inappropriate word to use for those who salary may be as little as 150 baht a day for 10 hours hard labour in sweltering heat. But make no mistake, these people do not wish for the minimum wage, (which I believe is twice that anyway), to be increased, (and enforced). Oh no, these people want to to be investment bankers or new leaders of the Labour party. For the idea that you might actually get just reward for having vision and talent is anathema to all of these people, indeed it may just get in the way of making money because it may lead to something called a conscience.

So while the red shirt leaders bide their time and plan to flip society upside down so they can be the new corrupt politicians of the day and while the French populace strike for their right to bankrupt the country and while the new labour leader makes sure he ticks all the right boxes in the Dummies guide to being a political leader test: (such as 'It means that you have a pretty and intelligent wife or partner, of whom you speak fondly, and at least one small child, and ideally another one on the way. It means that you went to Oxford or Cambridge, where, if you didn't study politics, you did a dissertation on political philosophy soon after. It means that if people ask what you are like, the person who is asked will look a bit confused and then say something like "nice", because no other obvious characteristics will spring to mind, and because people generally find you pretty amenable, not to say charming. It means that you believe in fairness and making things better'), whilst not actually having any idea or gumption to really solve the problems of the day when we are left with, according to Andrew Simms, just 75 months to 'enjoy' the planet; 'we have we 75 months, until the end of 2016, before the accumulation and concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make it more rather than less likely that global average surface temperatures will rise 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels – critically this is the level around which climate-driven environmental dominoes fall unpredictably' .

To be honest I am looking forward to the time after these 75 months have passed; after all the planet is not going to just self destruct overnight. I will be 58 years old by then and with luck and some care I should be able to enjoy some 15-20 years watching the planet sow what we have reaped. It would be nice to think of a Day after Tomorrow scenario whereby even the those investment bankers get their comeuppance sooner rather than later, but it is already clear that the whole planet's economic base is a house of cards and however much those asset strippers try to find some way of making money once nature turns they will be as vulnerable as any French bistro owner or Isaan rice farmer, perhaps more so. So get the popcorn and cold beer ready. The show is going to start in just a few short months.


Microfiction Monday No. 50.

From Susan at Stony River.

It’s not that Martha had been drinking so when the tanker slowly drifted off to her right she could only assume the whole world had tilted!


Finally, Finally...

...I feel I am getting on top of the work. All the quotations, (OK all but one), have been sent out, invoices sent, demonstration boards delivered and now I am left with just one order to complete, albeit a rather large one. Work on our own projects is still progressing and if we time it right the final assembled printed circuit board for our first product should drop through our door just as I complete this order.

Depending what else might have happened in the meantime that will be time for us to take a step back, take a deep breath and relax. We will then have a range of proven IP cores which will be our bread and butter for a couple more years but we will not be accepting any more orders for custom work. Then we will just be working on our own product range which also means we get to set our own deadlines which, in turn, means we get to take time off.

And the IP cores should also have given us a little money in the bank so we can develop those new products, (all thirteen of them), but also get to spend a little more on ourselves and our house.

It has been hard work getting to this point but we are now nearly there. Finally.

Our First Anniversary

Saturday saw the first anniversary of our arrival here in Thailand. As we had forgotten this event at the time it was strange that on that day we could of been found eating a delicious quick lunch out discussing, not for the first time, moving the business to Singapore. One year ago I arrived here on a 12 month visa. One would hope things would have progressed in that time but in fact I now find myself on a new 3 month visa and one that does not allow me to re-enter the country. Admittedly this visa is a non-B visa and the resulting work permit we should finally get in the very near future does open up other possibilities, such as buying a car in my name, but there is no doubt the bureaucracy in staying here, working here, and in particular running a business here taints the pleasures of living here.

Ploy said to me yesterday that she doesn't miss any of the countries we have lived in; not the UK, not Singapore, not Canada. From the girl that initially didn't want to come to Thailand because it was a country 'that had only ever brought her bad luck' that is quite a turn around. And whilst, during that lunch, she said she would always 'go wherever I go' - even to Chile which this on-line article says is encouraging foreigners to set up businesses there to the tune of a $40k welcome bonus - it is clear that Ploy is enjoying her time here and perhaps for the first time is actually finding 'real' friends instead of the false, forever bitching 'friends' that constitute the Thai expatriates found in the other countries we have lived in.

For me I still have an affection for Singapore but as a previous diary entry discussed, the low cost of living here, even compared to Singapore, is a huge plus and our ability to own our own house with a garden (albeit small) and own our own car, (admittedly 'just' a pickup), which would be difficult if not impossible in Singapore (certainly the former), is a lovely bonus. And then there is constantly on, always working attitude of the Singaporeans where relaxation is working at home instead of at work and dinner or lunch without discussing work is anathema.

I only have to go outside and sit on my porch to enter a different world. Sitting with an iced beer in my hand watching the children return from school, watching the various passing vendors ply their trade, or just watching the distant thunderstorms, I immediately feel the worries and stresses of the day diminish. And that is exactly why we moved here, to have that life/work balance sat a little more on the life side. This past year, while setting up the business the life side of things has not appeared so much, but it has still been there in times of emergency. When we flick the pages of that boating magazine it is not so difficult to imagine one day owning one of those boats. As we grow the company it is not so difficult to imagine me stepping back from it just a little bit and spending some time on that boat. Peace of mind comes from the fact that, with everything paid for, if we avoid any large borrowings in the future, our lives here are assured, even if it means me teaching English or Ploy selling noodles. That latter statement would not have been possible in any other country and offsets anything else that Thailand might be able to throw at us. And the work permits and visas were just as difficult in Canada where neither of us was a citizen; my return to the UK brought about a certain nostalgia but I couldn't live there anymore and I don't think I would be able to get Ploy on the plane. As always, in hard times, countries pull up their drawbridges and by virtue of our marriage it is inevitable that one us has to live outside his or her country of citizenship. Thailand has some hard times ahead but I think the people are probably more able to cope with those times than the battle weary British.

So we will persevere with the applications for visas and work permits and maybe one day that permanent residency will become a reality. In fact getting the company established here against all the odds will be quite achievement, and as far as I can tell one few have managed, which in itself gives a little sense of pride. As Ploy always says when I feel the odds are stacked against me, 'you can do it'. So the first anniversary is a cause for celebration for this move was the right move; it is just sometimes I need to be gently reminded of that fact.

Microfiction Monday No. 49.

From Susan at Stony River.

Polly and Henry go off to celebrate after he rather surprisingly won the audition for the role of Mammy in the remake of Gone with the Wind.


Dragon Fruit

One of the great things that result from Ploy's religious observances is the next day we get to eat the offerings which, from yesterday, is a house full of dragon fruit, (Geow Mangon แก้วมังกร which means literally 'glass dragon'). For some reason, although seeing this fruit so many times at the market, I think it is the first time I have ate it. The flesh is similar in texture to a kiwi fruit and it seems to be similarly high in Vitamin C. The red variety which Ploy bought is quite spectacular and absolutely delicious. 35 baht/kilo for the larger ones, 30 baht/kilo for the smaller ones.

Wan Phra Day

Once again our house is full of the smog of incense and fruit and flowers abound as today is apparently Wan Phra day, or Buddha day. Ploy's observance of these lesser events in the Buddhist calender seems ad-hoc but when she goes for it, she goes for it big time.

Lots of snippets of news today. Three new enquiries for SingMai, one from Canada, one from China and one from Singapore. It goes without saying that the most serious looking one is the one from halfway across the planet. When we lived in Canada all the interest was from Asia. Now we live here, well, bugger is all I can say; no regrets about living here mind.

I have been a bit slow about getting back to work as I have caught a head cold, probably from that last day of walking around in the UK. It does feel nice to be bathed in the warmth here in Thailand although the continuous heavy rain is also giving one or two health problems and our accountant had to spend a couple of days in hospital with fever just to check he hadn't caught dengue fever which seems prevalent this year.

This afternoon I go for yet another medical checkup for my work permit application. The local labour office require my medical to be done locally even though I have a valid certificate from a clinic in Bangkok. Then we have to go the British embassy in Bangkok to get my marriage certificate authenticated, (the lawyers will then get in translated and certified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). The latter is again required by the local labour office even though I have a non-B visa now, (B for business), and in Bangkok they apparently don't require it. But I live and work in Saraburi so that is where I have to apply and whose rules I have to abide by. Not long I may actually feel I belong here, just a little.

I found a new Thai language learning website that looks very good; it appears to be one of those total immersion schools where you only speak Thai throughout the lesson. I have been totally ill-disciplined with learning the language but I have a ready excuse in mostly being sat here by myself all day with little time to spare; in the evenings I just want to relax. But here is the site anyway.

We are off to buy a new flat screen monitor for Ploy's computer this afternoon as she has promised to help me more with SingMai work. There is lots she can do to help me and, to be honest, she has been paying lip service to helping me whilst immediately going off to do this or that 'so I don't interrupt you'. I think it will help me feel it is not just me doing all the work; (and who is it that is washing the bedroom curtains today!). Ploy is thinking of giving up her weekly school lessons as the teacher is not very good and the lessons are often rather pointless. She already gave up the English lessons as the teacher was always cancelling and then he moved further away. He did say he would come to Ploy for the lessons but the first time he tried to the police stopped him before he got here because his motorcycle was unsafe. In Thailand it is difficult to imagine how bad that bike must have been. But he can't afford to have it repaired so that is that. And the Chinese lessons got cancelled because the class dropped below the minimum size needed to keep is going. So it down to me to keep Ploy dutifully employed.


Old Portsmouth

I am back in my office, looking out over our garden, after the best, jet-lagged, night's sleep I have had in months.

It was a day flight from London so I didn't sleep on the flight and just watched movies including the rather good Cemetery Junction, set in the UK in 1973, the year I left school, which seemed a fitting and nostalgic epitaph to my week in the UK. The Singapore air beef stew was good, the A380 quiet and a little roomier than normal as I had managed to get the last available window seat on the upper deck and the wine plentiful, although I actually drank less than I usually do.

I arrived in the UK on Sunday evening, took the Heathrow Express to Paddington, (18 pounds for a single ticket!), and easily found my hotel which was walking distance from the station. The hotel was small and negotiating the narrow corridors with anything other my minimal luggage would have been difficult, to say nothing of the size of the shower which had to be sidled into with all the extremities safely tucked in.

I had got an upgrade to a club room and the bed was comfortable and the room well appointed with free wireless Internet, (but the room did cost 129 pounds a night). I found an Indian restaurant to have a dinner, I wasn't that hungry but needed something, and then woke at 4.a.m., not because of my TV alarm but because of the racket the air-conditioning had started making. (It was not that it was warm in London but the window in the room opened out onto everyone else's air-conditioning so I couldn't open it and the room was very stuffy without it). I couldn't get back to sleep but instead checked through all my visa application stuff again and looked through my e-mails. I left the bags in the hotel and went to the Thai embassy to apply for my visa. They accepted my application, but not for the visa I wanted, but more on that at a later date. At least I was changing to a business visa and now and, apart from collecting it on the Wednesday, I had the week to myself.

I had decided to travel down to my home town, Portsmouth, where I had already booked a hotel. Thoughts of wandering around London were thwarted by a partial tube train strike which meant there was a limited service. The next day there was planned to be a full strike so I decided to get out of London early before the inevitable chaos.

I bought my ticket and sat in a cafe at Waterloo train station drinking a pint of London Pride and eating a fairly decent Ciabatta with chicken, chorizo and rocket. The old 'slam-door' trains had been replaced by new rolling stock which although a huge improvement had incredibly uncomfortable seats. However, sandwich eaten, it left with Japanese precision, just as soon as the obligatory screaming child had entered the carriage. Luckily they sat towards the front of the carriage but it would not have mattered. If I had travelled on the next train I would still have heard it.

I watched the old familiar stations pass by the window, Vauxhall, Clapham junction, (The Busiest Station in the Britain - it used to be in the World), Esher, Petersfield, the row upon row of faded two-up, two-down housing, people walking Labradors, the occasional row of superior Victorian houses cordoned off from the hoi polloi with their tidy gardens and neatly parked BMWs, the boarded up windows of public houses that used to house the local community spirit, large concrete office blocks squeezing the spirit out of the workers within them and large industrial estates full of empty factories for rent.

The child continued screaming and started climbing over the back of the seat. There were four of them, two women, the monster and another, slightly older boy. The monster was a black boy. No wonder he was screaming, dragged from his mother in Somalia or Uganda he is now forced to live with two lesbians and the former love child of one of them. Not content with ruining his life the older boy will no doubt soon get a serious case of penis envy which will leave him with feeling of inadequacy for the rest of this life.

They left the train at Portsmouth and Southsea, as did I, and I took a taxi to my hotel. As the taxi drew away I noticed the black boy being picked up and giggling in the arms of a large black man. A lesson to me for allowing my prejudices to surface and for drawing hasty conclusions. So instead of being lesbians these two women were in fact one of the many concubines of this man and the boy an adopted curiosity.

I checked into my hotel on Southsea seafront and threw myself, exhausted, onto the bed; the rain was lashing against the window, I can see and hear the waves sucking the shingle off the beach and the seagulls are crying; it is just as it should be. The room was large and the bathroom enormous and although the fittings were basic this was a case of location, location, location.

I had no explicit plans, just to explore a little, wander along the seafront to see if anything has changed, drink some British beer. The first pub I stopped at was the Barley Mow where I had a poor pint of mild, (too long in the pipe); an old style pub populated by old style gentlemen at this time in the early evening, putting the world to rights and discussing the highlight of their lives, the weekly pub quiz. Who did write the Maigret books they pondered as I left, walking out into a light drizzle and a strengthening wind. I was quite a long way from my hotel and I knew heavy rain was forecast so I started to walk briskly back in that general direction looking for somewhere to eat, (the Barley Mow did offer sandwiches for 1 pound but I was after something more substantial). But I was in a nowhere time zone, all day pubs were open but they did not invite at all, decorated as they were with the slumped figures of the all day drinkers as they sullenly obeyed the no-smoking regulations but too early for the restaurants which did not open until 7p.m., the same time as the hotel restaurant. Before I knew it I had walked back to the hotel, past Canoe lake with its swan shaped paddle boats but complete absence of the swans that once frequented it, my jacket buttoned at the front as the drizzle started to turn to rain.

I booked a table at the hotel restaurant having been warned at check in that there were two large parties booked already and watched two antique dealers on TV openly exploit some buyers by selling on some questionable items; ('I thought it was a Jacob Epstein drawing because there is a little piece of paper stuck to the frame that says it is by him, although I must admit I can find no record of this work and he doesn't appear to have actually signed it. But I think it is worth thousands').

I had a glass of decent wine in the bar which, with only thirty minutes to go until restaurant opening time, was now heaving with octogenarians. Two girls, one obviously completely out of her depth, (she could probably make a mojito or strawberry daquiri but didn't have a clue when it came to bitter shandy or lime and lemonade), the other sullenly bossing the other one around whilst dealing with the well meant comment that Newcastle Brown should not be chilled. It is entertaining to watch old people en-masse like this. There is the ladies man, flitting from table to table whilst throwing out slightly bawdy asides to the various ladies who feign amused shock so well. There is the ex-army colonel and his wife who remain slightly distanced from the rest of the group maintaining the social structure, the couple of spinster ladies silently watching their group companions with a slight disdain and the more rowdy table of couples who had met and become firm friends in the short trip down from Nottingham and were already planning their next holiday together. I let them enter the restaurant first and after things had quieted down I got my table by the window. The restaurant was large, high ceilinged and decorated with prints of sailing vessels and Jack Vettriano paintings, a curious mix. There was a carvery but I chose from the al la carte menu which was surprisingly varied and interesting. I had grilled sardines to start and sea bass on crushed garlic potatoes and I have to say, rather snootily, that the food was very good. After the meal I retired early and fell asleep in front of the Midsomer Murders on TV.

The next day I was due to meet an ex-colleague in the evening but decided during the day to visit an aunt and find out what the gossip was on the my few remaining relatives. I telephoned first as she lives by herself and is 76 years old so I didn't want to be responsible for shocking her into an early grave by just turning up. I walked to her house, passing by the old house where I grew up, past Fratton Park football ground which I have never been to despite all my years living right nearby, past the new apartment buildings and out towards Langstone harbour. Before I knew it it was 5p.m. and, save for the occasional respite to get a coffee, we had talked for seven hours non-stop. One aunt and uncle had moved, one aunt had had a stroke, two aunts that weren't talking were now talking again and a one aunt's son had been diagnosed with epilepsy. But most of the talk was of Thailand and Canada and what Ploy and I had been up to. I promised to return again with my computer to show some photos and left for Fratton station to take to train to my friend in Rowlands Castle.

The pub my friend had chosen for us to meet was excellent and allowed me to reacquaint myself with Gales HSB. (As an aside, I found after the trip in looking for the links that Gales were bought by Fullers in 2005. I like the beers of both companies and if it allows them both to survive and flourish I don't really have any objection although I do think it a shame they haven't kept the Gales name on some their pubs). The evening passed very quickly, so much so I only just managed to catch the last train back home at a quarter past midnight where I also lazily found a taxi back to my hotel. A surprise was the train which instead of being full of the discarded meals of previous passengers and populated with threatening drunks was clean and timely.

Wednesday was a return trip to London to collect my visa which went without a hitch. The earliest I could pick up my visa was 11.30a.m. so I planned lunch at a favourite restaurant of mine. However the lunch proved disappointing, particularly the calves liver which had a lot of gristle and the cheese board which I had my eye on for dessert included Stinking Bishop, which is a disgusting cheese even to a cheese lover such as myself; too much trendy fashion and not enough common sense on the menu, there was rocket everywhere. The underground was again a mess with signals failures completely closing the District and Circle lines so I just got the train back to Portsmouth.

Returning to Portsmouth I got out at Fratton station and decided on a small pub crawl between the pubs I used to frequent in my youth, or at least those still open. (A taxi driver told me over 200 pubs had closed in Portsmouth over the last few years and it was easy to believe it). It was a pleasant way to spend what was, by then, a sunny late afternoon and the best of the pubs, the Sirloin of Beef, offered a wonderful selection of beers and had a suitably sullen and humourless landlord: in other words the perfect pub. I walked back towards my hotel past the Royal Marine Barracks which was the home of my first job after leaving school and had dinner at the hotel, a nice Pork Chop with roasted potatoes.

Thursday was once again spent with my aunt and again, now armed with my computer and years of photographs, the day passed quickly and it was 5p.m. before she called for a taxi to take me back to my hotel. All week I had promised myself a good steak as they are very hard to find where we live in Thailand. A taxi driver had recommended a place, Shorties, so I walked along the seafront and after some further directions found it but not before I noticed a bistro right next to it which is where I ended up having a really nice tuna steak after a delicious starter of sauteed chorizo sausage with peppers and red onion. The service however was poor, or perhaps not the service exactly, but the group of waitresses clustered around the bar that were very audibly complaining about who duties it was to clear the tables or light the candles or this or that.

I had planned to return to London for the last day so I could easily get the early morning Heathrow Express into London for my return flight home. However I decided to stay another day in Portsmouth as I wanted to have one last trip on the Hovercraft before it was inevitably shut down, (I can't imagine anyone is making hovercraft anymore and I don't imagine they can keep repairing these forever). I woke early but had a long lazy bath and finally set off at 6.30a.m. First stop was to go back to my old house and look a round the area. The main shopping area near our house was Fawcett Road and as I walked its length it became clear how run down this area has become. The number of second-hand furniture shops is always in direct proportion to the poverty of an area and Fawcett Rd. was festooned with them. Apart from the numerous take-away food outlets there seemed no other shops at all. I guess the busy lives of the poor in gossiping, claiming their benefits and taking their multitude of siblings to vandalise their schools takes up all their available hours, and given their lack of culinary skills and the lack of any fresh food markets means these takeaways are doing a very healthy trade. I walked down Telephone Rd, the third best dressed street in Portsmouth many years ago but probably not a contender now, (that even has(d) a Facebook page), and stood across the street from the house of my youth, where both my mother's parents died, at which my father was rushed to hospital with kidney stones and from which I left to go to school at St. Francis Junior school and latterly Southern Grammar school and left to start my first job at the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment in Eastney.

I walked along the road to St. Francis Junior school which has now been renamed to something else and discretely took a photograph of it, surprising myself by being concerned of appearing taking photos of small children as they entered the school and being arrested for being a pedophile. I walked past my aunt Sylvia's old house, past the Talbot pub which was closed and being turned into something else and stood on the bridge across the railway to Fratton station where I had stood so many times before watching the trains being washed; there was a latent train driver in me at that time. The station itself had changed little after a major change whilst I lived there when steel mesh was lavished over it to try to prevent vandalism, the first real signs of societal change in the area that I noticed. It didn't help that it was the local station to the football ground so every second Saturday specially imported vandals were shipped in by the train load to despoil my home town.

As I left the station I walked past two plump and gloriously unattractive schoolgirls sat by the side of the road, both smoking and drinking from 2 cans of cider. It was 7.30a.m. By now I had realised that smoking was now compulsory in the UK making an already unattractive nation even more so. Banning smoking in so many establishments just turfs them out onto public view

when, to be honest, most are best kept hidden. I walked along Fratton Road and down Arundle street to the main shopping area at Commercial Road. The shops were not yet open but people, presumably the unemployed, were thronging around in rather threatening groups which I did my best to avoid. A market was being setup in the main pedestrian precinct but nothing spoke of the decay more so than the closed WoolWorths store, the store of choice for shop lifters. The old market in Charlotte Street where you could buy some mangy vegetables at exorbitant prices had also all but closed and the urine scented Tricorn, a clear winner in the ugliest building in the world competition, now knocked down, had become a wasteland come car park.

I left the run down shopping centre and found myself in Victoria Park, now almost totally hidden from public view. The park itself was and is a tiny haven and still home to a small aviary of peacocks and ducks and parrots. The flowers beds are still beautifully kept but the park is blemished by, what I think was the Zurich Insurance building, which towered over it and is now totally empty and completely vandalised. The architectural abuse of Portsmouth that started with the Tricorn was continued with the bland office building that now surrounds and make almost invisible the stately Guildhall at which I spent many an

evening watching groups such as Tangerine Dream, Barclay James Harvest and Black Sabbath. Leave Victoria Park by going under the railway bridge and though the War Memorial you first meet the Guildhall but turn your head to the left and you find the square dominated by these faceless council buildings that are completely out of character but in keeping with the systematic obliteration of Portsmouth's history. I walked past the Theatre Royal which I am glad to say now appears to be thriving after threats to pull it down, past another pub likely saved only by its acquisition by the pub chain, Wetherspoons, past the old Rex cinema which used to show porn movies and in keeping with its past is now a nightclub of dubious nature, and out towards Old Portsmouth.

Another of the many premises up for sale, and opposite what a I remembered as a very good fish restaurant which had also shut down, was a house where a plaque told you it was the place George Villiers was assassinated. A little investigation on my return brought out a little of this man's history and also a gem of a quotation about one of his sons, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham:

'On the contrary, the distinguishing features of his life are incompleteness, aimlessness, imperfection, insignificance, neglected talent and wasted opportunity.'

I hope I can earn such an eulogy after I pop my clogs.

I reached the seafront at 11a.m., still too early for my planned lunch, so I walked back to Clarence Pier to watch the hovercraft. Without doubt my favoured form of transport, this wonderful craft had just arrived from its 10 minute trip from Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Thankfully the planners ineptitude that had blighted Portsmouth had also meant they had failed to agree on building a bridge across to the Isle of Wight and so the frequent traffic of catamarans, ferries and of course, the hovercraft, still wend their way across the Solent. I watched the next group of passengers fill the hovercraft to full and decided that I wouldn't try and book a trip myself; Ryde itself is not so interesting anyway when the weather is not good. I walked back through the fairground which had already closed for the winter, past the shuttered fish and chip stalls, past the penny slot machines, (which I doubt are a penny anymore), and onto the sea defences towards SallyPort.

SallyPort was always my favourite part of Portsmouth and despite the development of apartments which will soon completely block the view across the harbour it still retains much of its charm. I stopped at the Still and West, probably still my favourite pub in Portsmouth despite its modernisation and the change of ownership sign from Gales to Fullers, and got a table by the window to watch the coming and going of the ferries. I ordered their cod and chips for lunch which was quite superb and served, traditional style, in paper and in a very fortuitous turn of events I got to see the Waverley leave the harbour, the last sea-going steam paddle steamer in the world, as it visits Portsmouth just once or twice a year.

Sitting in the pub I reflected on my long walk. It was clear that Portsmouth is a city in its death throws. Should you only visit the Gunwarf Quays with its trendy restaurants and shopping outlets you could easily leave with a very different view. But walk away from there and see how run down everything has become. The closing of the dockyard was the beginning of the end of the city and nothing has been done to rejuvenate it. The number of unemployed lends it a rather threatening overtone and I felt quite uncomfortable walking in the downtown shopping area. Shops and pubs and restaurants are shutdown everywhere,

boarded up with faded paper notices in the window. The seafront is in serious need of some freshening up and was almost empty of people. Whilst they bring the ubiquitous brand name shops to the GunWharf they allow the Old Portsmouth area to be blighted by apartment block after apartment block thereby smothering the most historic area of the city. Walking along the seafront it is not only the tidal seaweed that has the stench of of decay.

I got back to my hotel mid afternoon after a futile attempt to find a bookshop that might have a book on the history of my Portsmouth, (all the bookshops I remembered had gone). That item was prompted by the fact the old bombed Garrison church, which dates back to 1212, was open to public and I spent a fascinating hour wandering around looking at the photographs and memorabilia. I was aching from my walk, much longer than anything I had done in many years, and just lay on the bed and watched cookery programs. I had planned to eat a snack in the bar as the fish and chips had filled me up, but their specials didn't appeal and the restaurant didn't open until 7p.m. of course. So I reluctantly put on my jacket and ventured out into the windy and cool evening. I walked along the back streets hoping to happen upon a gem of a restaurant but it was Palmerston road before I came across what I guess was a newly opened restaurant where I had an indifferent soup starter but then some wonderful mackerel fishcakes, all accompanied by Shirley Bassey extolling the fact she had nothing.

I had one last glass of wine at the hotel bar and then went to bed. The next day I got the taxi to the train station, managed to extract a ticket from the ticket machine, (the ticket office was closed at 8a.m. on Saturday at the main Portsmouth station), and waited on the platform before reading on the display that my train was not apparently stopping at Woking, my intended destination. I enquired of the station manager who was hiding in a hut at the end of the platform only to be told that there was a broken rail and I had to change station, something that was not mentioned to me by the chap who told me train times. It was four hours until my flight and I started to get slightly concerned. By the time I got my train the rail had been fixed and we were now reverting to our original route but with a lot of confusion still reigning I wondered how I would ever cope with such a thing in Thailand. At Woking station I walked outside to find the bus waiting area, previously a small building, was now a couple of benches open to the elements, and it was chilly and drizzling again. The bus didn't come for thirty minutes as it seems to now be hourly and then I found that it doesn't stop at all the terminals as it used to and just drops you in a field somewhere and lets you dodge the landing planes and walk the miles to each terminal. Luckily, with little luggage and Terminal 3 being the nearest, although still a reasonable walk, I checked in without further event and sat in the lounge waiting for the flight, (which left an hour late as usual because of congestion. Heathrow is like the dentist who books 10 minute appointment slots for everyone knowing some will take longer and none will take less. So by the middle of the day everything is running late. Heathrow, or the BAA, treasures quantity of quality in everything it does. It may yet become the busiest airport in the world, it is already the worst). Despite the morning's events I still left with a warm feeling. I had my visa and I had enjoyed my time in Portsmouth and was glad to see it one more time before it becomes a ghetto. There was still a sense of community in the local pubs but there were also plentiful signs that the city was dying. Strikes on the underground did not affect me so much other than ensuring I spent more time in Portsmouth which was a good thing as it turned out. But then, having returned home, I read of the inevitable strikes planned for when the government tries to claw back some of the colossal deficit that the country has racked up over the years. Portsmouth is no doubt a microcosm of what is happening all over the country and things are going to get a lot worse. I was glad to visit when I did.


Microfiction Monday No. 48.

From Susan at Stony River.

Dotty and Joyce are caught by the party photographer before he returns to the house to find all 36 guests have been poisoned.


Microfiction Monday No. 47.

From Susan at Stony River.

Fate played its final hand as Hector, having just dumped the body of his wife off Spit Point, realized he was going to soon join her corpse.


The Year that Changed my Life

In the UK, all those years ago when I was 11 years old, an exam was sat to determine what senior school you would attend. There were basically three schools in Portsmouth that I could 'choose' to go to. There was the Southsea Modern school where they nurtured the next generation of drug pushers, murderers and marketing executives.

Top of the list was the Southern Grammar school. Actually top was Portsmouth Grammar school but that was a private school which required you sing in assembly, walk, (walk don't run!), everywhere in single file and be regularly buggered by prefects. Oh, and for my parents to do a deal with the devil so we had the money to afford it. Southern Grammar school was the expectation for me as I was always towards the top of my form.

In the middle, a sort of average pass in the 11-plus exam, was the Technical school. The name itself immediately appealed to this budding scientist. To put the cherry on the cake, they had their own observatory. This was a real school. I don't think they even had a uniform whereas Southern Grammar required my parents to contact the devil again to obtain everything from badges for blazers down to the correct colour football socks. I could tell my teacher and parents were not enthusing about my choice as it was not becoming of me and a waste of my potential. It was to be Latin and hockey for me.

So I did what I have done since throughout my life. I deliberately flunked the 11-plus. I remember there was a curfuffle over it. Even the headmaster was involved. It must be a freak result. Maybe it was exam nerves. We put too much pressure on the lad. So I went to Southern Grammar but not in the top form which my previous grades warranted but the form below. That form was to prove to be the experimental form where innovative educators of the day would try out their ideas thereby ruining forever the lives of 30 students/year. No Latin, Spanish instead of French and worst of all, Modern Maths instead of Traditional Maths; (you may note in one of the exam reports below I was top of the class in Maths with a score of 21%: yes, moderns maths sucked and I am sure our teacher was as flummoxed by it as we all were).

And of course, getting this form instead of my rightful one, I got Mr. French as my form teacher who then ruined my life forever. Ah, teachers; they certainly do change your life. Mrs. Webber, my form teacher at Primary school I still remember too, but for all the right reasons, albeit it was she that fought to get me into Southern Grammar. I wonder which one actually changed my life more.

St. Francis Junior School, which I attended prior to Southern Grammar, was a little microcosm of society. As part of the preparation for working for big companies we were assigned chores. The higher in the class the more 'attractive' the chore. As I tended to be towards the top I got dishwashing duties and as the others who were top in class tended to be girls, I got dishwashing duties with the girls. Those who were middling in the class got to sweep floors and pick up litter, those lower down got to go up chimneys and bottom of the class got to substitute for the miner's canary when it died. Such was the contemporary inducement scheme.

I remember three girls who I shared these duties with. There was Sally who was probably my favourite at the time. Flirty, sexy and fun and clear material to be pregnant by fifteen. Then there was Susan. Very sexy and knew it, off-hand, and the girl with the best developed bosoms. I liked Susan and got the hots for her later as she lived in my street and I saw her quite a bit of her; I am reasonably sure she went to the effort to cross the street once as I approached her, such was my charm and appeal. Definitely Black Widow material.

And then there was Marion. I didn't know what to make of Marion. She had a head of blonde curly hair and was, as one of my exams reports so succinctly put it of me, intellectually arrogant. She was always top of the class but she probably admired me for my off-hand wit and repartee. And coming in the top five of the class allowed her to like me without compromising her educational ethics. And I do think she liked me. We met on Southsea beach when I was at Grammar school and we had a really nice adult talk and I realised I liked her. I never saw her again after that. She is now probably a spinster librarian somewhere. And I bet she went like a train.


The Wasted Years

I was a bright kid. My mother told me I had been hyperactive as a young child long before the days it was recognised for what it is now and nurtured accordingly; then it was just being a bleeding brat. It still is now if people were honest.

We have bought a safe, not because we want to do a Howard Hughes but because now have so many important little bits of paper from all the visa and work permit applications it occurred that we would probably kill ourselves in preference to having to try and get them all again. But Ploy bought a rather large affair, just big enough for our dog but too small for me. So in sorting out all those papers for safe keeping I came across my old exam papers from my school years.

Twelve years old and my first report from Grammar school, (I was a year late in school because of all the moving around we did as a family, joining school out of sync with the terms).

He has a very mature and sensible approach to his work which has resulted in him obtaining an excellent set of results. His knowledge of astronomy is very extensive indeed! (D. France, Form Teacher).

A splendid record. His examination results are very praiseworthy. (H.J. Mills, Headmaster).

Fifth out of 28 in the class. Conduct, Very Good. Detentions, 0.

Fast forward one year.

A sad deterioration in standards during the past term. Greater concentration is quite clearly needed. He has tended to adopt an attitude of intellectual arrogance which is not justified by his results which are, with one or two exceptions, rather poor. (Mr. Beanin{?), Form Teacher)

Other comments continually mention that I [my], 'lose[s] his concentration', 'attention wanders too easily', 'lack[s] concentration' or 'concern[ed] with trivialities'.

No overall class position but 22nd in Biology, 21st in History and 27th in Geography. Conduct, Only Fair. Detentions, 4.

Was it girls? Not that I remember. It was a boy's school and all I remember is playing football and swimming. However one event I do remember came at the end of the previous year. That comment about astronomy, which was absolutely my passion then, led to my parents asking if I might be able to take the new 'O' level in that subject early. The young Form teacher, Mr. France, used this request to further his own credentials. I sat a mock exam and passed easily but to take the full exam he demanded that I must be in the top five in the class; I was fifth the term before. I think it came from my mother's side but I don't react well to blackmail. I never sat that 'O' level until I was 15, one year early, (and I passed). But that event perhaps instilled a distrust in all my teachers and was perhaps the seed for my cynicism. I put in the least effort that was necessary not to get kicked out of school but no more. Subjects that bored me I didn't bother with at all, like geography. Intellectual arrogance? Well yes because when it came to the 'O' level exams I passed seven almost without revision. And notice on that last exam report, I was 1st in Maths, a subject I was interested in and in which I had too much respect for the teacher, Mr Bolge, to flunk it.

There were later other teachers I responded to, Mr Owen in Chemistry I remember well, but already my path was set. Instead of going to university to study astronomy I started my working career. What might have been I will never know. Do I have regrets. No, not really. I still have time to be the best I can be. And the other path(s) may not have led to me meeting Ploy. They say teachers change lives. Well Mr France certainly did. Whether it was for the better I will never know.


Going Home, Leaving Home

Tomorrow afternoon I fly to Singapore and after an overnight stopover then fly on to London on the A380 for my first visit in many years. The purpose of the trip is to get a new visa for my stay in Thailand which means we have been here for a year. I am currently on a non-immigrant' O', ('O' for other), visa based on my marriage to Ploy and it is possible for me to apply here for a renewal. However there are constraints like showing enough money in your (not joint) bank account and visiting a local immigration office every 3 months to prove you are still here. And then after a year you do all that again or possibly something different because the rules can change; and they do. Repeat ad nauseam until you die.

Alternatively you can leave the country and apply for another non-O visa. No need for proof of income but instead of visiting the local immigration office every three months you have to physically leave the country and come back again; the so-called visa run.

There is another visa, the non-O retirement visa which I am unfortunately eligible for, but it more of the same except you need more money to show in the bank.

So I considered getting the non-immigrant 'B' visa; 'B' for business. No need to show income although the business has to be legitimate. One distinct advantage of this visa over my current one is I am in Thailand based on a company's employment and not because of my marriage. If Ploy gets run over by a buffalo I have no rights, as it stands, to stay here and I believe I am supposed to change to another visa or leave within seven days. With the non-B visa I don't have to do this.

But the news is better. There is a 3 year non-B visa and it is this that I am going to apply for in London. Should I correctly read the ambiguous requirements, (which includes a line 'we may require a load more stuff but we are not going to tell you what it is until you are here and are unable to furnish it, ha ha ha, we win), then I don't need any more visa renewals for 3 years, no proof of income, no visits to immigration. I do need to leave the country every three months though but with having our products made in Singapore that is not so much of hardship; it certainly hasn't proven so this year. Anything that means I don't have to deal with Thai bureaucracy is worth it, believe me.

So while I am waiting for my visa application to be processed I have decided to go back to my home town on the south coast, Portsmouth. I have booked a hotel there looking out over the Solent, (or more likely over the rubbish bins at the back), and I intend to do nothing except wander around old haunts for a few days. I must admit I am looking forward to it although I have probably been away for too long and this nostalgic vision will be punctured by the reality that is the UK today. But if I do get the visa it will be a job well done and one more small step to feeling some permanency in this country.






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